But now Red Nev, the former Manchester United defender, has gone all establishment.
He has become an FA employee, trying to make England great again as Roy Hodgson’s coach.
Neville, 37, laughed as he recounted how he went to see his old boss Alex Ferguson to tell him the news.
He said: “Even before I went to my meeting with Roy I knew that it was something I wanted to do and after that I went to see Sir Alex.
“I had already made my mind up but I wanted him to be one of the first people to know about it.
“I was panicking, as you do walking into his office, but he had known about it 10 days before me... as per usual.
“Roy had spoken to him. That is just typical.
“He thought the role Roy was speaking about would be very good for me, he was positive.
“You don’t sit down when you’re five or six or 37 and say: ‘I’m going to be England coach in six months’ time’, you get invited.
“It felt like a special moment in my life. I don’t get emotional, I’ve never cried at a football match, I’ve never been somebody who gets too overboard or too down, I just keep pretty level but I knew it was something important.”
Neville is desperate to change the whole perception of England, that the players are crippled by fear when they pull on the shirt and cannot deal with critical headlines.
He said: “My frustration with England was that we never won a trophy and hopefully over the next four years I can be part of a team that does get to a successful position.
“You get a thick skin playing for United and England over 20 years so any criticism doesn’t touch you quite the same as it would have done back then.
“We have to try and make an environment for younger players so that they understand the nature of it, that it is a pressurised atmosphere where you are expected to do well all the time and so you should be.
“Criticism will come as will praise and you will be tested in every way. Hopefully we can give these players an appetite to be free and to have expression. Tell them this is a great moment for them.
“Many have said there has been a fear when young players have come into the squad to play for England.
“We have to try and remove that while still remembering the discipline that is needed.”
Neville insisted his “waste of time” comment did not mean he was not proud to play for England so many times.
He added: “I love England as a country and have always wanted us to do well. It was a great honour and privilege to play for England, a special thing, and I never gave anything less than my best.
“It’s a completely different feeling to playing for United even though my life was United.
“I’m just disappointed we were never successful with a group of players I felt were talented enough.”
Neville’s role as a Sky Sports pundit has won plaudits but has brought with it fears about whether he can be critical on screen about players whose confidence he might have to rebuild a week later.
He said: “People wondered how I’d be able to commentate on a Manchester City or Liverpool match and praise or criticise them without it being seen as pro-Manchester United.
“But I was sat there on April 30 congratulating Manchester City, who had just beaten United, and being critical of the players who had made mistakes.
“Two weeks later, in the last minute, of the last match of the season, there are 40,000 people at City turning to me to let me know they’d just won the league.
“I’ve been fair across the board with everybody.
“Just think of the times United have lost this season, 6-1 against City, losing at Blackburn. As long as you’re honest, people don’t have a problem with it.
“There are 23 players in this squad and I’ve probably had to highlight mistakes all of them have made. But I’m going to have to prove that isn’t a problem over time.”
Neville accepts he has gone from poacher to gamekeeper.
As a player he could drive FA officials round the bend, not least when he tried to organise that strike in 2003 after Rio Ferdinand was left out for failing to attend a drugs test.
Nev added: “What it shows is the FA and the boss are not afraid to make decisions.
“What Roy said to me was: ‘I don’t want someone to come alongside me and be a ‘yes’ man.’
“In the past I feel England managers have invited friends to be around them at times.
“All the time I’ve talked about the FA it’s always been about one incident.
“We are where we are and I have said continuously that there are an awful lot of good people at the FA. The preparation for the players before major tournaments has always been incredible.
“I might have done things differently, and maybe they would have done things differently, but there’s been mistakes made by all of us during our lives.”
So would he ever start another strike? His reply: “I wouldn’t do it now!”
Neville examined England’s past to come up with answers about where it has all gone wrong and how to put it right.
He said: “If you want it in one sentence, the top and bottom of it is we haven’t been good enough and you can’t sum it up more than that.
“When I look back though — and I have been explaining to some of the lads over the last few days — I went to five tournaments and in four of them we went out on penalties.
“We are talking about the Argentinas, Portugals, and Germanys so they were not exactly mug nations we were getting knocked out by.
“The lines between success and failure are so fine.
“We’ve got a great keeper — not being disrespectful to the ones I played with — and that could make a difference.”
It is felt this England unit will do well to get to the knockout phase of Euro 2012 and Nev can sense the doubts.
But he believes there is enough about the squad to mount a decent challenge.
He said: “There seems to be the lowest expectation I’ve ever known going into a tournament.
“The Euro 96 squad had a lot of strong characters but you look through this team and I’d say Rooney is a strong character as are Hart, Terry and Gerrard.
“You are talking there about European and Premier League winners. You have to have character to win those trophies.”
With Neville in the dressing room again, England’s new-boys will not be short of advice.
All they have to do is put it into practice on the pitch. Simple.