Phil Neville's excitement for women's World Cup wins over doubters

08 June 2019 - 09:10
By AFP
England’s head coach Phil Neville.
Image: FRANCK FIFE / AFP England’s head coach Phil Neville.

Phil Neville lifted six Premier League titles and the Champions League in a decorated playing career, but has described the chance to lead England's women into a World Cup as "the biggest and best thing" in his career to date.

World Cups had eluded Neville until now. An 11-year international career reaped 59 caps and he played in three European Championships, but he missed out on making a World Cup squad on three different occasions.

"England to me has always felt like unfinished business," Neville told The Times.

"The biggest disappointment of my career, with so many incredible players, was that we didn't get a trophy or even a final. I want to have success with England. I've wanted it all my life. And with these players, we've got a great chance."

Prior to Neville's arrival in the women's game to take charge of his country last year, England had already laid the foundations for great expectations this summer by reaching the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup and Euro 2017.

That excitement has only grown since England beat the world champions United States in their own backyard to win the She Believes Cup in March for the first time.

Rather than be cowered by the pressure, Neville has been keen to embrace the opportunity to explode the interest in women's football across England in the next month.

"You want someone who is going to come in and say I believe in you because you are all the best. We are going to win because we are the best," said England forward Fran Kirby.

"The trust and confidence he puts in every single player before a game, it inspires you to push on that extra 10 percent and that's what you want as a manager."

 'A great example' 

Neville's appointment was initially met with skepticism. The parachuting of a prominent former male player into the role with no prior experience as a manager or in women's football was questioned.

In the days that followed his appointment, Neville had to apologise for old tweets which were criticised for their sexist nature.

However, Neville's playing career was characterised by a ferocious determination to work hard and maximise his abilities.

That same commitment to his role as a coach has quickly won over his players and any doubters among the public.

"His standards, his professionalism. He never used to cut corners as a player and that's why he had the career he did," England women's captain Steph Houghton told AFP.

"He's a great example of how to be successful and that comes across to the group. He always tells us if we are not doing what he expects, but at the same time he's there to say 'well done' when we are doing well."

Neville also has leaned on his sister Tracey, coach of the England netball team, to traverse the challenges he has experienced in moving from the men's to the women's game.

"All those people who said I hadn't got a clue about the women's game, that was my fuel. That was like putting unleaded in my tank. Thanks for that," Neville told the Guardian in typically bullish fashion.

As with any England manager, though, Neville will ultimately be judged on results at a major tournament and now faces the acid test in France.