Image: Wikimedia Commons / James Boyes
Image: Wikimedia Commons / James Boyes

Lionesses: Neville’s tenure was another failed experiment

After a positive start to his reign, Phil Neville has now overseen one of the Lionesses’ worst runs of form in their history. Having succeeded Mark Sampson in early 2018, the FA have confirmed that Neville will leave his role as head coach at the end of his contract in July 2021.

The appointment of Neville was meant to take England to the next level. His tenure would create an England side who would now reach higher heights. This never came to fruition. The man who was meant to bring more attention to the women’s game simply took it backwards. For all the talk, the appointment of the former England international was a failed experiment.

Let’s be honest, Neville shouldn’t have been anywhere near the England job in the first place. Don’t let the heights of 2019 – a SheBelievesCup win and a fourth-place World Cup finish – paper over the cracks in his measly leadership. The move to give one of the most sought-after jobs in the women’s game to a man with little-to-no managerial experience was quite simply laughable.

Neville’s appointment was based on an inherently flawed principle

This was a man who wasn’t even the best footballer in his family, let alone the best candidate to manage England’s women. By appointing Neville, the FA belittled the status of the women’s game, and have been playing catch up ever since. Neville’s appointment was based on the inherently flawed principle that any experience in the men’s game is more valuable than experience coaching in the women’s side of the sport. A miserable failure in recruitment.

This was a move that backfired massively; Neville consistently showed his managerial immaturity. Press conferences were undeniably bullish; his rattled outbursts stunk of a man who didn’t think before he spoke. Claims like “I’ve got the bravery that no other coach has…so, thank your lucky stars” translated as a man who deemed himself too big for the women’s game. It felt like the former England man was consistently reminding us of his days as assistant manager at the Mestalla or the titles he won under Sir Alex Ferguson. Neville’s self-imposed arrogance was talking himself out of the job faster than his players could play him out of it.

That was until he lost the dressing room, of course. A wretched run. Five loses on the bounce in Autumn. Seven defeats in eleven games and a third-place finish behind the US and Spain at the SheBelievesCup in March. A win percentage of 54%. If the defeats were bad, the performances were worse; the football was abject, lifeless and ultimately boring. England had gone backwards.

The FA have taken Neville’s wise words on board and decided that a change is indeed required

In the wake of the SheBelievesCup, the former Manchester United and Everton defender accepted personal responsibility for England’s “unacceptable” form. But this wasn’t good enough. The Lionesses’ infrastructure and investment is miles ahead of most international set-ups; they should not be struggling against smaller opponents as they have done in recent months. After the run of five games without a win Neville declared that he would be first to say “we need a change” if it would help the team. Clearly, the FA have taken Neville’s wise words on board and decided that a “change” is indeed required.

The decision for Neville to leave when his contract expires in 2021 is a repose to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the women’s football calendar and the FA’s desire for a “continuity of coaching” at these rescheduled tournaments. As the Euros and the Olympics are pushed back a year, and many of England’s players are reaching the peak of their footballing career, the England job is suddenly a very appealing one. This England side is unbelievably talented – they have all the individual pieces; they just need someone to put the jigsaw together and take them to their first major trophy.

With Neville’s departure date set, the FA can now begin the search for his successor. A safe appointment would be early bookies favourite Bev Priestman, who could be internally promoted from her role as assistant. She knows the players but surely lacks the experience of being the lead figure.

Another option is Jill Ellis, a proven coach on the international stage

Other names in the mix include previous England captain Casey Stoney, Chelsea manager Emma Hayes and former Manchester City boss Nick Cushing. Another option is Jill Ellis who, having overseen the US in back-back world cup wins in 2015 and 2019, is a proven coach on the international stage. Her appointment would show the FA’s desire to dominate the international stage over the next few years.

Regardless of who it is, Neville’s successor will not take the reins for a while. Sue Campbell said that “once football returns after this difficult period, Phil will continue his work with the Lionesses on the further development of his squad” until the expiration of his contract.

So, put it in the diary: July 2021. The date England fans will finally see the back of Phil Neville: the “high-profile” appointment who failed to evidence his “winning mentality” while at the helm of a side he undeniably took backwards.

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