The chant follows Phil Neville around the grounds of England. He may even hear it in his sleep, it's become so frequent. "You're just a c**t like your brother," is how it goes, and while it certainly isn't meant as a compliment, you can see why Neville might take it as one. And why David Moyes should be happy with the sentiment, too.
This week, the world woke to the mildly-startling news that Tottenham, a team towards the top end of the Premier League, with a strong squad and genuine ambitions, wanted to buy 33-year-old Phil Neville. On the face of it, the news came across as a journalist chancing his arm but it later emerged that Harry Redknapp had spoken to David Moyes about the issue, and Daniel Levy to Bill Kenwright. The Spurs manager later expanded on his side's interest in the player, admitting that it was centred around the leadership Neville provides. Although Redknapp didn't quite use the language – not in public anyway – he was effectively saying that his talented team needed a few c**ts.
Neville used to be a bit of a laughing stock. In years gone by a different chant – one which suggested that if he could play for England, then anyone could – would ring in his ears at away grounds. From full-back, it seemed, he couldn't control the ball or find a teammate with a pass. In winning six Premier League titles, three FA Cups and one Champions League with Manchester United, he came across as a passenger, a utility player handy to have about the place to save the legs of others but one not really good enough to play for the club.
How that perception has changed since he joined Everton in the summer of 2005. Firstly, Neville deserves credit for cutting the umbilical cord in search of regular first-team football, something John O'Shea has always seemed reluctant to do. Secondly, he warrants praise for arriving at Everton and patently deciding not to take a back seat, like he had at United. While his basic skills may still let him down from time to time, or even more frequently than that, Neville has emerged over the past five seasons as a genuine leader of men.
He is the heart and soul of Moyes' Everton, a player who has helped unite a team, who because of financial constraints, has had to be put together in random fashion. Take the case of Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, Everton's Russian winger. He knew he'd been accepted into group on the back of a wind-up from Neville. "Before one team meal, Phil called me up 10 minutes before and said everyone had to dress smartly. I took it seriously and turned up all smart, in a jacket and tie, and all the guys were sitting there in jeans, t-shirts and trainers."
On the pitch, though, Neville doesn't joke. The reason he is labelled a c**t is because he will do anything to ensure his side wins. Back in October 2008, Manchester United were 1-0 up and heading towards an easy victory at Goodison Park when Neville ploughed through Cristiano Ronaldo with a clear intent on 57 minutes. He was booked for his troubles but the tackle, and the mêlée afterwards, succeeded in raising Everton's beat. Watching on, it wasn't an accident; Neville knew precisely what he was doing. The home side equalised through Marouane Fellaini soon afterwards and deserved to win the game by the end. Twice in recent months he exemplified that strength of character he possesses by refusing, by both legal and illegal means, to allow Gareth Bale make a mug out of him.
"He is someone I've learned from," said Tim Cahill on hearing of the Spurs link. "He's changed me on and off the park, his professionalism. What he's brought to the team, you can't replace. His desire to win, his commitment to the team. There's an old saying: 'You'll miss them when they've gone.' Phil Neville is someone I'd miss, someone we'd all miss."
Not that the Australian will have to say goodbye just yet. Moyes knows well the value of leadership to a team. And if he didn't before Redknapp's enquiry, he does now.