Gary Neville covers a Premier League game between Wolves and Leeds at Molineux for Sky Sports. March 2022.

Move over Jake Humphrey, Gary Neville has just redefined ‘High Performance’

Forgive us for being self-indulgent, but we’d like you to put your knife and fork down, pause Netflix and spare a thought for creative writers.

Tasked with putting their own spin on events, creative writers often delve into satire in an attempt to exaggerate the personality traits of their subjects.

But, as the world goes to hell in a handcart, this task is becoming increasingly impossible. How can you write a piece about Boris Johnson when, just 24 hours later, he’ll take a journalist’s phone before hiding in a fridge?

How can you write about Jurgen Klopp, when he pulls a hamstring seconds after bellowing into the face of the fourth official?

And how can you write about Gary Neville as he completes his metamorphosis into the love child of David Brent and Jake Humphrey?

Bored by conventional punditry – and, in fairness, there are only so many times you can point out Harry Maguire has the turning speed of a stoned sloth – Neville has increasingly branched out into the world of business and self-help.

The former Manchester United defender has a number of ventures across the North West, ranging from hotels to Salford City, while also finding time to interview former team-mates for The Overlap and joining the Labour Party.

So it wasn’t a surprise to see Neville pop up on ‘The Diary of a CEO’, a podcast run by Steven Bartlett and featuring interviewees who utter banalities with the zeal of a religious convert.

But the 48-year-old broke new ground when unveiling one of the secrets of his success – mini-retirements.

“For instance, this weekend I’m going to Spain from Friday to Monday morning,” Neville explained. “I call that a mini-retirement.”

With the infinite patience of a counsellor, Bartlett replied: “So that’s a weekend?” But he was wrong. We were all wrong.

“It’s basically where I can say for three days that I’m there and I’m basically taking it easy. I don’t think about work – but I will.” It’s at this point Neville gives a knowing look to Bartlett, indicating an in-joke far beyond the reach of you and me.

“Some of my best ideas come when I’m on these types of trips. But then in six weeks, I’ll have another mini-retirement for five days rather than thinking you’re going to stop for six months for a sort of sabbatical.

“That’s probably not going to happen for people like you or me because we basically don’t work that way. So having lots of mini-retirements during the year is what I try to do.”

Congratulations, Gary… you’ve just invented annual leave.

The age of grindset, where you’re simply not allowed to do your job and enjoy your free time without monetising it, is nothing new. To listen to Jake Humphrey is to realise that all your problems can be solved by getting up at 5am and inspiring others with your world-class humble bragging.

But there’s a more interesting subtext here. Neville, although somewhat inflicted by the Will MacKenzie syndrome of having a voice that makes him sound clever, does have plenty to say.

Some of it, such as his protestations against the European Super League, helped create the zeitgeist of resistance to the idea in this country. When Neville talks, people listen.

Alas, there are also moments when he can appear increasingly out of touch with the people he wishes to inspire – as Ian Hislop reminded him during Neville’s hosting of Have I Got News For You last November.

And it’s pretty hard to satirise a man who believes he’s invented weekends. Spare a thought for us too.

By Michael Lee

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