Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Neville Surprise Choice as Keane's Successor

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Neville Surprise Choice as Keane's Successor

Article excerpt

Byline: By Simon Stone

The unlikely figure of Phil Neville has emerged from a posse of Manchester United midfield hopefuls to become the natural successor to captain Roy Keane.

Doubts expressed over the vulnerability of the United engine room following the summer departures of David Beckham and Juan Sebastian Veron have been obliterated by Neville's superb early-season form.

From being a mere bit-part player in the Red Devils' persistent drive for honours, the 26-year-old has suddenly become an integral component of Sir Alex Ferguson's plans.

In years gone by, the absence of Keane from United's travelling party to face Panathinaikos might have raised expectations of a rare first-team start for Neville.

Not any more. Now the England international is a fixture in Ferguson's line-up.

So when they awake and stare out of their hotel rooms on to Athens' fume-filled streets this morning - no doubt wondering like everyone else how the traffic-clogged city will manage to host an Olympic Games in nine months' time - it is Nicky Butt, Kleberson and Diego Forlan who will be fretting about whether they will get a chance to play.

"Phil Neville's performances over the last few months have changed his career," claimed Ferguson.

"For many years we regarded him as a utility player. In the past we have played him in both full-back positions, the right and left-hand side of midfield and then in the centre. But when it came to picking my strongest team he always seemed to be left on the side. Now he has discovered a position he feels suited to. He has matured so much, and the level of his performances means it is very difficult to replace him in the team."

Although Ferguson again expressed the hope that Keane's injury-ravaged body will plough on for "another two or three years", the wily Scot has already accepted his influential captain will have to be guided through the latter stages of his career. …

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