Gary Neville admits to having purposely riled former Manchester United team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo during his brief spell as Valencia manager, with “a farmer’s field” of a pitch created for a meeting with Real Madrid.
The legendary Red Devils defender did not enjoy too many highs during a forgettable coaching stint in Spain which lasted less than four months.
He did, however, oversee a notable 2-2 draw with a star-studded Madrid side and the balance of power in that contest was levelled by long grass at the Mestalla, with Neville eager to ensure that life was made as difficult as possible for the Blancos.
Ronaldo did not take kindly to being asked to play on such a surface, but Neville delighted in the whinging of a five-time Ballon d’Or winner and former Old Trafford team-mate.
He told Sky Sports’ Off Script podcast: “The 2-2 draw with Real Madrid where we almost won it late on was an incredible night.
“Rafa Benitez was Madrid manager and that was his last game before he got sacked.
“What I remember most about that game was our tactic of leaving the grass really long and we didn’t water the pitch so the ball wouldn’t travel as quick in the hope of slowing down Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.
“It was like a farmer’s field.
“Cristiano came over to me before the game and said ‘it’s a disgrace, cut the pitch’ – I said ‘absolutely no chance’.
“There was no way he was dribbling that night.”
Valencia were able to contain the considerable threat posed by Ronaldo on that evening in January 2016 as the Portuguese drew a rare blank, but Madrid still came close to snatching all three points.
Karim Benzema fired them in front early on, before Dani Parejo restored parity from the penalty spot shortly before half-time.
Bale re-established Real’s lead after Benitez’s side had been reduced to 10 men by Mateo Kovacic’s dismissal.
There were just eight minutes left on the clock at that stage, but Paco Alcacer levelled inside 60 seconds and Los Che had chances to snatch an even more dramatic winner.
Neville only lasted until late March in a first managerial post of his distinguished career, but can take heart from the fact that his plan to frustrate Ronaldo and Real almost played out to perfection.