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Neville Returns (Hopefully) | An Unnecessary Friendly At Saudi Arabia

In the build up to the Arsenal game there remains, in the midst of all the heated discussions we’ve had, a few key components of our team.

So today is about them. Well, Carrick has been discussed by many of you, fellow readers, but it is still worth mentioning on the site, once more.

Anyway, today marks the day where Neville, hopefully, ends his two week absence from full fitness routine and gets some playing time. For the reserves, of course.

The skipper will make a return for the reserve team against Stockport county. But it also looks likely that he will be in the squad for the Arsenal game. His situation certainly poses a question to the boss. As Gary himself put it:

“I’ve made myself available, but with the way that Wes Brown is playing, it might be a case of easing me back in over the space of a couple of weeks.

He couldn’t be more right. Brown has filled in the gap admirably well. While he doesn’t necessarily bomb down the wings like Neville does, he keeps things simple and tight at the back, being a natural defender himself. He is improving all the time. But the presence of Neville in the side brings back his value as a leader on the pitch. Especially in big games. Now with Scholes out and Giggs not a really imposing character on the pitch, apart from his runs, Neville is the experience, along with Rio, that can get the team going when the chips are down.

But with his long time out of the side, wouldn’t Arsenal be a little too early? Especially given he plays his first match about 48 hours before meeting the Gooners at the Emirates. It is a question that will test SAF, but at the end, I believe, he will pretty much stick with the same back four (if Evra is fit) he’s used, to good effect, so far.

Carrick, is also in training for a while now. It must be remembered that he had fractured his elbow. So if his need was so acute, he could bite the bullet and be made to play. But of course, we seem blessed by the presence of Anderson, who stepped up very well in the absence of, first, Hargreaves and, then, Scholes to give us the feeling that the squad was in the best of health all throughout.

Carrick, though is a good footballer. Despite the stick he seems to get from people, I, for one, like the player. On good, or even average, days he doesn’t give the ball away. He was singularly responsible for the ball retention that helped us to go on to score tons of goals last season. He doesn’t always go for the spectacular which makes people lose sight of him on the pitch. But that’s what he did last season.

This season, he seemed a little lost because of the lack of clarity on his role in the team. Clearly Owen Hargreaves was the defensive midfielder. Which meant that he was going to be groomed to be in a more advanced role. However, alongside Scholes, his role wouldn’t be all that clear because of the deep role that Scholes himself prefers to play these days. Because of this, they get in each others’ ways. I really don’t think Carrick alone has been poor. And it would be unfair on our part to pass judgements on him so soon.

Moving on, we’ll end things on a little sour note. The Guardian reported a couple of days ago that we were planning to go to Saudi Arabia for a friendly… wait, hold your breath… in January! I know, I know. I haven’t heard of a sillier decision than this since heaven knows when. The friendly game is a testimonial for the Saudi legend Sami Al Jaber. Now he may be great in his country and all that. But it is a testimonial game, for crying out loud! Couldn’t that wait till, I don’t know, off the top of my head… the summer? Just after the season gets over. But then there is the also the Euro 2008 (do we care?). But January is certainly not the time for going out on friendlies at some other part of the globe that is many miles away.

January is a crucial month for us because we wouldn’t be losing players to the African Nations’ Cup. It is the time where we ought to swoop in and take advantage of slip ups made by our rivals. It is certainly not the time to fly out of town for the sake of a million pounds. Yes, it’s just a million; and that is just a drop in the ocean that is the ‘Glazer debt’.