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Ever since his early days as a schoolboy for Bury and Greater Manchester, Gary Neville had the makings of a top class defender. His qualities as a defender excelled but it was his mature and commanding temperament that set him apart as a player destined for the top flight. Signed as a Manchester United trainee in 1991 he turned professional in 1993 and was a member of United's FA Youth Cup winning side in 1992.

His first team debut came as early as 1992 in the second leg of a Uefa Cup tie against Torpedo Moscow. However his first league start didn't come until the final day of the 1993-94 Premiership season. The following year he was ready for regular first team play and when injuries sidelined Paul Parker he slotted in a right back like a veteran.

By the end of the season he was a whisker away from winning the Premiership and played in his first FA Cup final, which United lost 1:0 to Everton. It was a disappointing end to the season for United but had been a successful breakthrough year for Neville.

With Paul Parker's departure from Old Trafford, Neville became first choice at right back in 1995-96, playing over 30 games. By the end of the season the bitter memories of the previous season had been wiped away as United won their second league and FA Cup double. Gary Neville playing an important part in both successes.

It was also the season Neville stepped up to International level under Terry Venables and his 1995-96 season was capped by his inclusion in the England European Championship squad. He took part in four games and only missed out on the semi-final with Germany through suspension.

In 1996-97 Neville was to add another Premiership medal to his small but growing trophy cabinet. And on top of that he collected his first senior goal for Manchester United and a fine strike it was too. At 3:1 down to Middlesbrough in a vital game of the Championship run-in, Neville produced a blistering strike from an acute angle to bring United back into the game and help them eventually earn a point.

By now Neville had become one of the first names down on every United teamsheet, with his consistent level of performance rivalling that of Denis Irwin. Over 40 appearances in three competitions throughout the season made it his most hectic year at United at that time. And it was to be another year of disappointment for United as they were eliminated from the European Cup and pipped to the Premiership finishing line by Arsenal.

However, yet again United came back the better for it in the following season and Neville played a vital part in United winning the treble. With Jaap Stam's arrival and injuries to Johnsen and Berg, United had to shuffle their back-line in the early parts of the season. As a result Neville partnered Stam on a few occasions, most notably against Liverpool at Old Trafford when he performed superbly and helped mark Michael Owen out of the game.

He returned to his normal right back position at the first opportunity though, and from there scored his second goal for United, this time against Everton.

With a wealth of experience already under his belt, Neville has become one of United's most successful players to come through their youth system and has often been touted as a future United and possibly England captain. Few would disagree that he has got what it takes for both.


Patrick Eustace 2000. Last modified on Thurs, 27 Jan, 2000

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