Neil Humphreys: Youth's the way to go for Neville's Valencia
Valencia's fledglings may be new coach's best bet
(Santi Mina 86)
(Luis Suarez 59)
La Liga's new superstar stood beside the Singaporean.
Both clad in black, the godfather in waiting and his new boss conjured one of the most surreal images of an already bizarre season.
Standing together and sticking with the solemn look, Gary Neville and Chan Lay Hoon watched their new alliance take shape yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Valencia's incoming coach and the club chairman stood high in the Mestalla as the unlikeliest football relationship in the European game got off to a promising start.
The 1-1 draw against Barcelona was the work of caretaker boss Salvador Gonzalez and assistant Phil Neville, but no one was in any doubt where Valencia's real power resided.
The man in black, standing at the back, his expression inscrutable aside from an occasional shake of the head, was the man of the moment.
The La Liga fixture became Neville Watch. Every incident or near miss was followed by a shot of the new manager, still only 40.
His reach extends beyond his grasp and Valencia's line-up already has the Neville fingerprints on it - whether they belong to Gary or Phil is a moot point.
There were echoes of Fergie's fledglings in Valencia's youthful performance, a belief in enterprise rather than experience for its own sake.
Both Nevilles proved Alan Hansen's quote wrong, going on to win just about everything as kids, and Valencia earned a resilient draw against the champions with a forward line barely out of puberty.
Rodrigo de Paul, 21, Paco Alcacer, 22, and Santi Mina, 19, led the line for the hosts, the latter two conjuring a fabulous equaliser in the dying minutes.
If the 86th-minute punt forward that led to the goal was hopeful, Alcacer's chested control and lay-off to Mina was delightful.
His ability to hold off both Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano, neither of whom enjoyed their finest outing, before releasing the Spanish teenager defined the kind of No. 9 that once led United's line.
Valencia's 4-3-3, utilising the width of de Paul on the left and Mina and the energetic Danilo, only 19 himself, on the right, had more than a hint of the Class of 92 about it, a formation focused on speed and invention (ironically, the very qualities missing from United's recent performances).
Of course, it's important not to exaggerate Neville's influence, or even the coaching philosophy.
Valencia's youthful line-up was mostly picked out of necessity.
The Los Che were missing seven regulars and the 4-3-3 often morphed into a 4-2-3-1 with Alcacer left to plough a lone furrow as Valencia threw down two rows of defensive sandbags to halt the Catalan deluge.
The hosts were hanging on until Luis Suarez finally broke the deadlock in the 59th minute, when Aymen Adennour was spun like a carousel.
But the centre back was hardly in exclusive company. Like a gangster in a mafia movie, every defender takes a beating from Suarez at some point.
In truth, it was the small incidents that were telling, the little things that give an indication of how Neville intends to raise Peter Lim's Spanish baby.
On a couple of occasions, the man in black's face betrayed him.
When Danilo, the teenage Brazilian, made a fool of Sergio Busquets, a Kodak picture moment in itself, a smile almost escaped Neville's lips.
He was raised on risk-taking under Ferguson, a fullback who frequently charged 80 metres down the right flank on the off-chance that David Beckham might lay the ball off.
Beckham rarely did. He crossed better. Both men knew it. But that never stopped Neville vacating his post and taking educated, calculated risks.
Neville doesn't believe it's possible to win without honest enterprise.
The energetic industry of de Paul, Alcacer and Mina across the front line offered a glimpse of Valencia's direction.
So did a rueful shake of the head. It only happened once, but it was enough.
In the first half, Enzo Perez dashed into the box to meet a cross and chucked himself to the floor after a non-challenge from Pique.
Neville started to shake his head, but then checked himself, perhaps remembering the omnipresent cameras.
Perez's dive was the act of a cynical veteran.
The 29-year-old was later substituted, replaced by Zakaria Bakkali. The 19-year-old Belgian spearheaded the late recovery.
Valencia had picked up a precious point with precocious talents.
Up in the stands, the superstar and his Singaporean boss could reflect on a satisfactory evening.
Valencia remain a work in progress. But, at the very least, the kids are all right.
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