I feared United exit, admits Neville
Gary Neville has admitted if he had been anywhere else but Manchester United he would probably have quit by now. A lifelong United fan, Neville has spent three years battling against a succession of injuries that started with a broken ankle and eventually turned into more muscular concerns. Yet the 35-year-old has kept battling and although he is still to make an appearance for the Red Devils this season, is confident of doing so once the international break is over and the matches start to pile up. Neville accepts on age grounds alone the time is drawing near when he will have to call time on his stellar career. But, without the motivation of trying to play for United, he believes that day would have already passed. "What keeps me going is the thought of running out at Old Trafford and winning trophies," he said. "It is all I have known since I came to my first match when I was four. If I was anywhere else I would struggle. "At this stage of my career, my motivation is to extract every since ounce of enjoyment I can. "I want to contribute to a team that can win things. That is all I have ever wanted to do." In a sense, Neville is in extra-time anyway. At the end of April last season, long after fellow veterans Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes had been handed one-year extensions, Neville was still waiting for Sir Alex Ferguson to extend the same gesture his way. The former England full-back had long since stopped worrying about such matters. Yet, as the realisation of what was coming suddenly dawned, he confirmed his feeling that life was about to change. "I turned round during training one morning and said 'I have three games to go at Manchester United'," said Neville at a sponsorship announcement for Singha Beer. "I had not spoken to the club and I genuinely felt it could be the last three weeks. "The club didn't owe me anything and I was more than happy. I was enjoying myself. "In some ways, my best football came in a period I thought I was just going to enjoy." So well was Neville playing at the time there was even talk of a call into Fabio Capello's World Cup squad. In the end, the Italian never got in touch and given subsequent events involving David Beckham, it is almost certain Neville will never represent his country again. Still, with 85 caps he has not done badly, his final international appropriately enough against Spain at Old Trafford, just before that fateful ankle injury at the end of what he now classes as the second phase of his career. "My career has been in three distinct parts," he said. "I had the pre-first-team time, then from 19 to nearly 33, it was virtually flawless. "I was always on the teamsheet and regularly playing nearly 50 games a season. "Then I got the injury and was missing for 18 months. Coming back I felt as though the game had moved on and found it really difficult to adapt. "It was like I had to learn to adapt to my own body. I was training differently." It was a whole new experience, similar to the one he had to cope with all those years ago when he made his breakthrough from that famous "Class of 92". "I feel as though I am starting again. I have had to build myself up from the bottom," he continued. "Now I have to target 30 games." As United played only three times in the opening three weeks of the season and John O'Shea started every game, Neville has been watching from the stands. But a similar period this month sees United playing seven times, including their opening two Champions League games and a Carling Cup trip to Scunthorpe. This is where Neville feels his opportunities will come. "There are periods where I have to be ready for the manager to use me," he said. "You can almost tell when those times will be. Coming up to Christmas when the pitches start to get a bit rougher and experience is required. Post-Christmas when some of the younger players have had six months and need a rest. "My first games this season will probably be in the Carling Cup and lesser games. "I know there will be some point in the season where the manager needs me. I have to be ready for that moment."
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