Phil Neville isn't an automatic choice for Manchester United but he believes bei
Phil Neville isn't an automatic choice for Manchester United but he believes being a squad member at Old Trafford is better for his England career than being a first-team regular somewhere else...
Phil Neville might not be the first name on everyone's team sheet but four England managers - Terry Venables, Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan and Sven Goran Eriksson - and Manchester United's legendary boss Sir Alex Ferguson can't all be wrong.
There have been times in the past when new glamorous signings at Old Trafford have made Neville wonder if his future may lie elsewhere.
But he has loyally stuck at the one club, filling in a variety of positions, and now his reward is coming.
England's diamond formation suits the younger Neville down to a tee and he looks as though he will win his 40th cap against Slovakia on Wednesday.
He says defensive knowhow and Champions League experience are the key to his success in the holding role in England's last two wins against South Africa and Serbia/Montenegro.
"The fact I am playing midfield for England vindicates my decision to play for Man Unted," says the 26-year-old.
"I have played a lot of games in the Champions League in midfield and that stands you in good stead with this manager (Sven). Although I might not play in every game for my club, I played in more than 40 games this season and it is nice when you get recognised by your England manager.
"Of course it is frustrating to be left out at times but it's part and parcel of playing for Man United. I have always accepted that, and if I didn't accept that it would affect my performance.
"I have to make sure I am ready all the time, ready for nights like Wednesday against Slovakia. Playing for United prepares you for the big occasion."
Tactically, Neville has looked perfect in the role at the bottom of the England diamond, although the same could be said of the injured Nicky Butt and Owen Hargreaves.
Although he sometimes thinks versatility can work against you, Neville is grateful at the moment that he has played in different positions.
"I think with my playing in defence for a large majority of my career, it means I have got a defensive mind on me," he says.
"That is particularly important when you play a diamond - the player that sits in front of the back four has to be disciplined and be aware of defensive matters; it enables players to play in front of him - the likes of Scholesy, Lampard and Gerrard to do the harder jobs, create things."
Tactics in international football - whether for club or country - are an increasingly factor, something Neville is aware of having helped United through numerous Champions League campaigns.
"When you are playing in Europe the strength of the teams is in the central midfield and it is important you don't get outnumbered," he says.
"You have to match them man for man in midfield so when you do get possession, you can still keep possession yourselves. It is important and something the English players have learned over the years and something United have learned. When we first went into Europe we used to get outnumbered in midfield and teams used to kill us for possession.
"Nowadays we are more experienced and we know that you have match them man-for-man."
He may not fill the column inches like Michael Owen or David Beckham but Neville's wise head on relatively young shoulders are of increasing significance to England.
Years of experience gained at United have seen to that.
Did you know: Phil Neville was rated an excellent cricketer in his youth and chose Manchester United ahead of Lancashire, whose coaches considered him a Test star of the future.
Phil Neville was talking to Joe Bernstein
Phil Neville - Stat Pack
Place of Birth: Bury, England
Date of Birth: 21 January 1977
Weight: 12 00
Height: 5' 11''
Club: Manchester United