Football Media Watch: A job for the right boy – Phil Neville’s new role

THE problem with successful people is they believe they are good at anything and everything. Thanks to the world’s over fascination with celebrity status and wealth, such individuals are indulged by the broader population, partly because deep down, everyone wants to be the golden boy or girl and also, because they also despise the rich and famous.

Phil Neville enjoyed a fabulous playing career as one of Manchester United’s Class of ’92, appearing almost 400 times for United and winning an astonishing 59 caps for England. Neville was possibly one of the least celebrated members of that group, but he has truly leveraged his career to prolong his time in the spotlight.

Neville has announced he is leaving his job with the England Women’s national team to coach David Beckham’s Inter Miami. Once more, he has landed on his feet, exiting from a job that had gone a little sour and finding refuge in the sunshine state.

Neville’s time with the women’s side turned after the team was knocked out of the World Cup in 2019 and he was criticised for his tactics. His response was almost Trumpian: ‘”I’ve got a vision nobody else has. I’ve got bravery that no other coach had. So, do you know what? Thank your lucky stars. I’m here.”  Such a comment was never going to endear him to the media.

The Daily Telegraph’s Luke Edwards said that it was difficult to avoid the conclusion that Neville’s long-term plans as England coach were all about Phil Neville. Since the World Cup, results have been poor and progress appears to have stalled. He announced in April 2020 that he would be leaving the role, which does make you wonder why the Football Association didn’t replace him then. Like a CEO who lets the world know he is retiring in six, 12 months, power slips away at that point.

Alex Scott, former England international and now BBC pundit, struggled to see where the standout performances were for Neville’s England. “It never really happened,” she noted.

Scott also puts the SheBelieves Cup win of 2019 into perspective. “Is that a competition to be shouting about in terms of an achievement? I don’t think so.” Certainly, England’s displays against truly top teams has been sub-optimal. Neville’s win rate as England manager was 54%, 10 percentage points below Mark Sampson’s record before him. 

Jonathan Liew of The Independent, highlights the old pals’ act of Neville moving to Miami. “The defining motif of Neville’s coaching career to date is a series of doors being held open for him: a path that ironically enough would not exist for a woman of equivalent talent.”

Simon Jordan, the former Crystal Palace owner, was highly critical of the move. Speaking to Talk Sport, he said: “I’m not entirely sure his abilities merit it…I think there’s an element of ‘jobs for the boys’ here. Would he get the job if David Beckham wasn’t involved?”.

The Miami Herald said Neville’s arrival is part of Inter Miami’s second year makeover. He replaces Diego Alonso as coach. Inter finished 19th overall in Major League Soccer and 10th in the 14-team Eastern Conference. Beckham was mostly in the UK as Inter struggled to find their feet. He has said he will take a more hands-on approach for the second season. “I know his qualities, his decency and honesty,” said the former England captain, who called his old team-mate “a natural leader”.

The FA has already appointed Neville’s successor in Sarina Wiegmann, the Netherlands manager, but she will not arrive until September 2021. An interim appointment is obviously a priority.

It won’t be as expensive as the hiring of former Manchester United player, who has actually raised the profile of women’s football. “Phil Neville’s England reign is a costly mistake,” said the Guardian’s Suzanne Wrack back in April when his departure was known. 

Sources: BBC, Miami Herald, Daily Telegraph, Independent, The Guardian

Neville, Neville, how could they know?

THE WALLS are starting to close in a little on Phil Neville as he faces his first mini-crisis as manager of England’s Women. After a poor run of results, Neville reacted badly to increased scrutiny of his methods by the media, lashing out at journalists and developing something of a siege mentality.

Neville, according to Suzanne Wrack of The Guardian, just cannot take criticism. “Sometimes, it can feel like Phil Neville is speaking a different language,” said Wrack. He described the two performances against Brazil and Portugal as “outstanding”, which few scribes would have agreed with.  Wrack noted that Neville’s team struggled to beat Portugal, despite the fact that England have one of the wealthiest, most invested set-ups in the world of women’s football.

Neville insisted he had read some “shocking reports” recently and confronted one journalist who supposedly called for his head. “You wanted me sacked didn’t you?”.

One gets the feeling that Neville is not popular, perhaps because there is an air of arrogance about some of the players from his generation. Luke Edwards of the Daily Telegraph said Neville needs to be told how ridiculous he looks when reacting to criticism, describing him as “remarkably thin-skinned”.

Molly Hudson of The Times highlighted England’s shortcomings and the high number of goals conceded from crosses. Neville, she said, “faced sustained criticism for the defensive errors and concentration lapses.”

Neville said England are getting punished for every mistake, but 90 Minutes’ Jamie Spencer believes England’s women deserve a better manager. There are suggestions of inflexibility – “the system is non-negotiable” – and of a deteriorating relationship with the media. He’s happy with the direction the team is taking, but at the moment, that direction is downwards, said Spencer, who concluded, “Phil Neville has had his time and the gig is up”.

That may sound a little dramatic, given Neville has a win rate of 55.6% and is currently between tournaments, but his comment that things will perhaps improve at the next big competition didn’t fill people with confidence, given that will be in 2021.

Neville told The Guardian that he would leave the Lionesses if it was the right thing to do, but does not consider that he’s vulnerable at the moment. At the same time, he points the finger at the media and the gradual move towards the men’s game in terms of the way journalists operate. “There is real criticism and real praise, but nothing in between”.


Photos: PA