Gary Neville has provided a fascinating insight into his mid-season retirement at Manchester United following an infamously abysmal display at West Brom on New Year's Day in 2011.
Neville was joined by his brother Phil on Premier League TV, where he revealed that he was convinced the previous season would be his last despite finishing in superb form for his club. He also explained that Sir Alex Ferguson was extremely hesitant to grant him his retirement at such a crucial juncture of the season, and while accepting Neville's decision, asked that he remain training with the squad until May.
It's interesting to hear Neville apply his hugely successful punditry to his own career, and here, he offers a highly entertaining, behind-the-scenes look at life at United under Fergie.
"To be fair, I started playing against like Stoke and West Brom, and we've got average players causing you a problem, you know you're in trouble," Neville said.
I played three games that season, against Everton, Stoke and West Brom, and nearly cost us - in fact did cost us some points, at Everton away. I nearly cost us at Stoke, but should have been sent off there. I wasn't. Ref didn't send me off. He should have sent me off. And then I should have been sent off at West Brom.
And that's when I went in, the day after, to Sir Alex Ferguson and said: 'I'm going to cost you, here. It's not going to work. I just don't feel right at all.'
Neville then watches himself withdrawn at the start of the second half of United's trip to Stoke. He's pictured grinning as he shakes hand with Ferguson and puts on a jacket, to which Phil Neville assesses that he seemed happier at that moment than he did on the pitch.
The older Neville responds:
Honestly, I'd gone by then. I'd retired there. Even though I played on for another two months and another couple of games, in my mind I'd gone.
The previous season, in the March/April [period], the boss started playing me. We were going for the title the season before. For some reason I played 10 games on the run, I was playing really well. And what was making me play really well was that I knew it was my last 10 games at Manchester United. I had this feeling in my mind of freedom, of just thinking I'm going to really enjoy this.
We had a countdown going, me and Scholesy in particular.
Neville then explains how David Gill and Alex Ferguson convinced him to stay for another season, and how a pre-season injury hampered his entire campaign.
On January 2nd, the day after a disastrous performance at West Brom, he paid an early-morning visit to Ferguson in his office and told his manager that he'd never play for the club again.
Ferguson believed Neville was overreacting to a few poor displays, telling his right-back: 'Neville, you're being emotional. Go away on holidays for seven days and then come back'.
But the Hawthorns had proved the final straw for the former United captain.
After 20 minutes I knew that was my last game for United. The fans were singing my name. I was subbed after 60 minutes.
Mick Phelan came over to me: 'You're done, aren't ya'? I went: 'Mick, I'm done'.
Honestly, at half-time, I sat in the toilet in there for 10 minutes on my own thinking, 'I want this to end'. I'd never felt that playing for United, but I knew I had to go. I had to finish.
A trip to Dubai with his family confirmed what Neville already knew, in that his football career was over. On his return, Ferguson had accepted it too, but declared that there was 'no point' in United announcing Neville's retirement mid-season, for fear of disrupting the squad and drawing unnecessary headlines, and perhaps due to his wanting Neville to stay in case of an emergency at right-back.
Ferguson asked Neville to keep training with the squad for the rest of the season, and Neville did, while the rest of the footballing world presumed him to be 'injured', as per the official line from United.
I retired on January the 2nd. It wasn't announced until February the 4th or 3rd or something. The reason for that delay was the trip to Dubai, and me going in training with the lads just to see what it was like. And I didn't like it. I was embarrassed every day going in, thinking that this highly elite football club was having a guy in there as a passenger.
So I went to see the boss and said: 'Boss, let's announce it. The team are moving on. Rafael's doing really well.'
And I went. And I've only been back to the training ground twice since.