'The day I smashed Ronaldo and lived to tell the tale'
Ex-Red Phil Neville has described how he once incurred the wrath of his former team-mates, following a hair-raising challenge on Cristiano Ronaldo, while playing for Everton.
Speaking on the latest episode of UTD Podcast, which you can listen to in full from Monday 24 August, the Academy graduate retells the story of how the crunching tackle against his former club helped turn Toffees fans’ opinions on him for good.
The younger Neville brother, who moved to Goodison Park in 2005, had scored an own goal in United’s remarkable 4-2 comeback victory on Merseyside in April 2007, helping his old club take a huge step towards a first Premier League title in four years.
But Neville’s intervention on our Portuguese superstar early in the second half in the 2008/09 iteration of the fixture galvanised the Goodison crowd and ultimately inspired David Moyes’s men to a gritty 1-1 draw – following which Phil never looked back with the Blues.
He captained the Toffees in the FA Cup final later that season and ultimately made 303 appearances for them over eight seasons, before retiring in the summer of 2013.
“[The Everton fans] always said I was a Manc,” he recalls.
“The day I tackled Ronaldo, I did a really bad tackle on Ronaldo, was the day they changed their opinion on me because I went against the club they thought I loved.”
Although the home crowd loved the determination Phil showed to win the contest out on United’s left-hand side, a few of the United lads he’d once shared a dressing room with weren’t so impressed – despite Neville being convinced it was a fair challenge.
“Do you know when you get them moments and you think, ‘I’ve got you here – I can go through you and win the ball?’
“And I thought: wow, it was like having a tap-in! Then Giggsy [Ryan Giggs] and Fletch [Darren Fletcher], two of my mates, and Rio [Ferdinand], came towards me, effing and blinding.
“And I’m saying, ‘Guys, I’ve won the ball there’. I was just walking away and not one Everton player came and helped me!”
Fortunately, the mood settled down after the final whistle, despite Marouane Fellaini’s 61st-minute effort meaning the Reds had to settle for a point.
Giggs was particularly forthcoming, as was – perhaps surprisingly – the man Neville had just laid out on the Goodison turf.
“It was funny because after the game, Giggsy said: ‘I would have done the same thing.’ And I said to Giggsy: ‘I would have chased you down as well if you’d have tackled one of our players like that.’ It was just one of those things.
“Ronaldo was absolutely brilliant. He obviously rolled around, but the ball went up the other end. I was playing right-back and he was left-wing and he just high-fived and winked at me and said: ‘Great tackle, I’d have done the same thing.’
“It was great. And Ronaldo was brilliant.”
UTD Podcast with Phil Neville will be released on all podcast platforms on Monday.