Phil Neville

Where did it all go wrong for Phil Neville and the England Lionesses?

There is normally very little to cheer about in England during late January, the festivities of Christmas seem like a lifetime ago and the cold that was celebrated over cosy holiday nights feels like a burden that has now overstayed its welcome. The fact of that matter is, despite making life-changing resolutions only a month prior, it takes a great effort to get out of any post-Christmas slump.

The last days of January 2018 were no different. In fact, they got a little worse as the news broke of Phil Neville’s appointment as head coach of the England women’s football team.

A kick in the teeth for the women’s game

Undoubtedly, this news sent a large majority of people into an even greater feeling of despair at what was perceived as preferential treatment of an unqualified candidate. Naturally, Neville didn’t see it that way and argued that he couldn’t be more qualified for the role as the Lionesses boss after stints in management at Valencia and Manchester United.

It was a startling defence of his position in his first press conference. Neville would go on to say that despite not knowing anything about women’s football, he was a quick learner and referenced his time in La Liga. The 43-year-old said that it took him only six months to become familiarised with Spanish football but by this time, brother Gary had been sacked after only four months and Phil would only see out the rest of the season before departing.

Hardly a success story and neither was his time at Manchester United with David Moyes, who was sacked after only ten months. Sure, Neville had coached the elite in the men’s game but on closer inspection, it had been a disaster.

Flawed selection process

You can understand why there were a few murmurs of discontent coming from within the women’s game. And those murmurs were to go up a few decibels after it was announced that Neville hadn’t even applied for the job and was instead approached by the FA.

If you’re going to headhunt a candidate that doesn’t apply then surely the conventional wisdom suggests that you headhunt the top of the class, not someone who has been part of two coaching teams that were both sacked within a season. That is not being unfair to Phil Neville, who was a very fine player during his playing career; it is more a damning indictment on the selection process.

Granted, a babbling Phil Neville dressing up his coaching career to an almost unrecognisable state didn’t help, but he shouldn’t have been sat in that chair fielding questions from the world’s media. He simply should never have been given the job.

Rather, Chelsea Women’s coach Emma Hayes would have been the ideal selection after working wonders in South West London. That snub seems to have hurt the Lionesses as Hayes has for all intents and purposes ruled herself out of succeeding Neville after it was announced that he would be stepping down. Hayes has her sights set on more silverware with Chelsea and that is a huge loss for the international women’s game.

Neville has made the once fierce Lionesses toothless

In many ways, it feels like the England women’s team has gone backwards under Neville. Yes, there was the SheBelieves success in 2019 but since the semi-finals of the World Cup, England have lost seven out of their last 11 games.

The betting markets help give an idea of England’s outlook in coming competitions. If we look at the odds available for placing futures bets – in this case, on the outright winners of the World Cup and SheBelieves Cup – England are way down the pecking order and well behind the USA at odds of 6/1. Now that was Neville’s main remit, to bridge the gap between England and the USA. What can we gauge from all of this? Well, the future isn’t looking that bright for England given they aren’t tipped to claim any international silverware anytime soon.

When asking how and where it all went wrong, you probably have to go back to the start and conclude that it was always going to end up this way. When all is said and done, Phil Neville didn’t have the skills needed to make England the dominant force in international football.

This outcome wouldn’t have taken many by surprise and two years on from Neville’s appointment, those that voiced their feelings of disapproval will now feel vindicated, albeit still frustrated. It’s back to the drawing board for the FA as they set out trying to make up for lost time.


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