Why Phil Neville was an unnerving appointment for the women’s team

With the SheBelieves Cup in full swing, what better time to spend a moment pondering the appointment of new England women’s manager, Phil Neville.

The SheBelieves Cup will be Neville’s first outing as manager and he has been charged with turning a world class team into one of winners. In England’s first match everything went to script, beating France 4-1, but with upcoming games against Germany and the USA (ranked 1 and 2 in the world respectively), Neville faces a sterner test.

So, is Neville the man to lead the lionesses to glory? Here are my thoughts.

The FA have had a pretty tumultuous few years when it comes to managerial appointments. First there was Sam Allardyce, in charge of the men’s team for a solitary match before being removed after becoming the victim of an undercover sting operation during which he bragged about his ability to skirt around FA regulations. Incidentally, Allardyce’s 100% international win record is unlikely to ever be bettered.

Then there was the furore over Mark Sampson, whose tenure in charge of the women’s team came under heavy fire when he was accused of racism and bullying by Eni Aluko, whose 10-year stint in the England side came to an abrupt halt at just about the same time she made the claims, although there is absolutely no suggestion there was any link between those two factors.

Thankfully Sampson was cleared of any wrongdoing following the findings of a report which did not think it necessary to speak to anyone involved in the allegations.

But then just as he was letting out a great big sigh of relief the FA did go and fire him, for having inappropriate relations with his players while he was coach at the Bristol Academy, even though his infarction had nothing to do with his behaviour as England manager. More on that later.

So, you would think that after two fairly disastrous appointments and dismissals the FA would be hell-bent on the total and utter avoidance of anything that could even be considered to faintly resemble controversy.

With the men’s side the FA got exactly that, appointing Gareth Southgate, the man who occasionally enjoys a bottle of lager on the weekend, but generally just drinks water. However, by contrast, with the women’s team the FA opted for that tried and tested method of appointing someone while simultaneously causing a total shitstorm.

The man they went for was Phil Neville and it is possible to sum up why he was a terrible appointment in four short points.

  1. He has no experience in the women’s game.

Prior to getting the biggest domestic job in women’s football, Phil Neville hadn’t so much as seen the last half of Bend It Like Beckham. His expertise of the Women’s Super League was so extensive that when asked to name the top scorer in the League, he had a guess (which was in fact correct), but couldn’t be sure enough to throw his chips in.

     2. What little experience Neville has in the men’s game suggests he is a pretty shoddy coach.

Neville’s managerial experience is severely limited, having taken charge of just one game in his career which was for Salford City, the side he co-owns. Elsewhere he has enjoyed hugely successful stints as first team coach at Manchester United (didn’t last a season) and as assistant to his brother Gary at Valencia (didn’t last a season). Truly inspiring stuff.

Before moving onto points three and four, it is worth pointing out that in the face of this gaping chasm of a managerial career, there were those who questioned how exactly Neville had got the job, especially when it quite hilariously turned out that he hadn’t even applied.

In the face of this PR calamity, Neville assured the media that he gone through a very thorough interview process which involved a 7-hour presentation to the FA board (presumably not covering the top scorers in the WSL). With the FA clearly have done their due diligence and averting what could have been a highly embarrassing moment for them, on to numbers 3 and 4.

    3. Less than 24 hours after being appointed manager, it turned out Neville was a raging sexist.

Within hours of his appointment, tweets surfaced in which Phil Neville had joked about battering women and women’s place being in the kitchen, in a move which can only be described as ‘classic banter’.

Apparently, the FA were aware of the tweets before appointing Neville, but did not consider them to meet the threshold for action. Quite why they didn’t ask him to remove them before announcing his appointment is beyond the realms of common sense, but there you go.

   4. Neville is a total wally.

I am aware that I am sliding into the realm of the personal, but rest assured I only do so in a professional sense.

In 2014, the more than 440 viewers complained to the BBC that Neville was too boring. More recently he has been responsible for such gems as failing to count to four and the immortal ‘The Brazilians were South American, and the Ukrainians will be more European’.

Furthermore, in Neville’s first TV interview following his appointment, having been scrutinised for walking into the job and being raked over hot coals for his since deleted tweets, Neville, having presumably been locked in a room with a PR specialist for hours prior, decided to describe himself as the ‘best man for the job’.

Not the worst offence in the world, but a pretty poor choice of words, underlining just how difficult Neville finds basic brain function on the best of days. Faced with all this controversy Neville recently told the media that criticism and doubt only spur him on, which is great because Neville will by now be pretty darn spurred on.

Secondly, he revealed that he feels that some people want him to fail. On that, I don’t want him to fail, I just couldn’t be more sure that he will.

Not only is there no suggestion that he is a good coach, there is no suggestion he is a good manager and there is also every suggestion that he is tone deaf. Collectively that spells defeat.


Written by Scott Pope

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