Gary Neville has not won many games during his disastrous first two months in charge of Valencia, but he has succeeded in rubbing many of the locals up the wrong way.
Since taking his first ever senior managerial job, ex-Manchester United defender Neville has drawn five and lost four of his first nine La Liga games in charge at Valencia. His first game was a defeat at home against Lyon which brought Champions League exit. Their Copa progress also shuddered to halt with a 7-0 defeat in last week’s semi-final first leg at Barcelona.
There were concerns amongst some Los Che fans and pundits when Neville arrived, as he was seen as a TV pundit and novice coach whose friendship and business links with club owner Peter Lim appeared to have helped him get the job.
Most were willing to at least give the ex-England international the benefit of the doubt, and wait and see what happened. They knew he was walking into a really difficult situation. Predecessor Nuno Espirito Santo was a very unpopular figure at Mestalla. Local observers also know that a squad assembled expensively by Lim and Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes is unbalanced and lacking in experience.
Neville impressed with his willingness to answer any question during early press conferences, and also show a sense of humour and interest in the local culture and history of the club.
But as the weeks have passed, and results not improved, anger has risen, especially among the press corps and Valencia’s hard core supporters.
Last Wednesday’s humiliation at the Camp Nou, the joint-worst result in the club’s history, marked the end of any last feelings that Neville deserved time to get used the job.
The questioning at the post-match press conference was pretty hostile, with journalists repeatedly asking Neville why he was not immediately resigning. On arrival back in Valencia at 3am that night, the squad were met by about 300 angry fans who chanted insults as the players and coaching staff got into their cars.
Neville was asked how he felt about those supporters at his press conference ahead of Sunday’s trip to Real Betis, and spoke of his admiration for “the passion” they had shown. He also actually claimed to be enjoying the experience at Valencia - saying he was having a “fantastic time”.
The 40-year-old also started to speak about himself in the third person, never a good sign for a manager under pressure. “Now is when Gary Neville needs to deliver,” he said.
Neville’s team did not deliver against Betis. They showed little imagination or organisation while losing 1-0 to a team who had not won any of their previous 12 games.
Afterwards Neville claimed, once again, that his team had actually performed well, just been let down by one mistake in defence, and some poor finishing at the other end.
This did not cut it with local pundits, who are increasingly upset at what they feel is a failure to accept reality. Dismissing or laughing at some questions from local reporters, while being more friendly to the British journalists at the press conference, has not helped.
“Listening to Neville I get the feeling he does not feel guilty for anything,” tweeted former Los Che midfield David Albelda on Sunday evening.
Albelda’s former La Liga winning Valencia teammate Santiago Canizares continued the theme when speaking as a pundit on El Dia Despues show on Monday night.
“It is clear that Valencia need a change of coach,” Canizares said. “But you get the feeling Gary Neville will not resign, as his own pride will not allow it. And it seems Peter Lim's friendship with Neville is worth more than the interests of Valencia.”
Stuck in the middle is recently returned sporting director Jesus Garcia Pitarch, who in theory is Neville’s superior in the Mestalla structure, but in practice seems to have less power.
Pitarch has reportedly been sounding out experienced Spanish coaches Juande Ramos and Joaquin Caparros to see if they would come in short term. More importantly, probably, club president Layhoon Chan and Lim’s close associate Kim Koh flew to Singapore this week to meet their boss.
Wednesday’s Copa del Rey second leg against Barca now looks like a game nobody wants to play, and both sides are likely to field much-changed sides. Neville started his pre-game news conference by saying he would not be responding to any questions regarding his future.
“The fans do not want more words, you probably neither,” he said. “I'm even tired of listening to myself. I have blind faith in myself and the players. The only thing to turn this around is to win games. I just want to focus on football, on tomorrow’s game.”
Barring a miracle turnaround against Barca, attention will quickly turn to Saturday evening’s home La Liga game against Espanyol. Fortunately for Neville, perhaps, Espanyol have shipped 11 goals in their last two games, including Monday’s 0-5 home loss to Real Sociedad.
Lose against Espanyol and La Liga’s historically fourth biggest club will be in danger of a first relegation in three decades. A win would at least buy him some time. But either way local patience with both Neville and Lim is close to running out completely.
Read more from Dermot Corrigan