Phil Neville has admitted that he saw the England Women’s job as a short-term project before moving into club football, following the announcement that he will not be staying on beyond his contract, which expires in 2021.
The former Manchester United man was under heavy scrutiny following his appointment to the top women’s job in the country, due to his apparent lack of experience, knowledge or interest in the women’s game.
He was quick to silence the critics, insisting that he did care about women’s sport because his sister Tracey played netball, actually. Can’t say fairer than that.
But speaking on beIN Sports’ Keys & Gray Show (because where else would you discuss women’s football, other than with the Emmeline Pankhurst’s of their day?) Neville said [via the Telegraph]: “My plan was always just to go for the three years and then get into day-to-day running of a club job, which would be what I wanted to do.
“It’s been brilliant and I’ve loved every minute of it, but ultimately you don’t get to see the players. You don’t get to impact them every single day, which is now what I feel I need to do.
“The plan was always to do the three years. I had a World Cup, I had the Olympics — which [would have been] this summer — and then there’s the Euros in England next summer. That was my three-year stint at international football.
“I think international football for a 41, 42-year-old can get quite frustrating — so I thought, get some managerial experience, which is unbelievable in terms of going to major tournaments, and then cut my teeth in day-to-day running with the energy that I’ve got.”
Neville’s message is understandable – the 43-year-old got England playing their best football when he had them for long periods of time, primarily at the World Cup.
When he was in charge of the team for short bursts, the Lionesses’ performances were often disjointed. You can see why the day to day intensity of club management appeals to him over the frustrating, long absences of international football.
But when Neville says he wants to get stuck into club management, do you think he’ll be applying for the head coach vacancy at Birmingham City Women?
Would a stint in charge at AFC Fylde’s recently reinstated women’s side be on the cards? Will we see Neville eying up the Bristol City Women’s hot seat any time soon?
Neville most likely meant that by a job in club management, he’s talking a Premier League or Championship team.
Former England boss Hope Powell reached the final of a major tournament without a squad of elite, professional players and wound up as head coach at Brighton’s women’s side. Does Neville’s profile (or gender) alone entitle him to more?
The fact that Neville appeared to see the top job in the women’s game as a launch pad is a sad state of affairs. It suggests he still sees it as always playing second fiddle to the men’s game.
In a lot of ways, that is where it is. But this should not be the attitude of the person leading the female national team. They should be wanting to better women’s sport, not use it for their own gain and then be gone.
It wasn’t Neville’s fault he was offered the job because nobody else wanted it in the first place. He talked a good game, he helped the game’s profile increase and he built great relationships with the players. When he took the job in 2018, the Lionesses hot seat had become near untenable. Neville has changed it into the desirable job it should be once more.
But the fact he went into what should be perceived as one of the top jobs in the country, and knowing full well that he was going to be ditching it within three years in pursuit of something ‘bigger’ in the men’s game is pretty disrespectful, and the women’s game deserves more than that.
Neville’s stock has fallen since the World Cup, and it will be interesting to watch the remainder of his managerial career unfold and see what kind of club would be willing to take a punt on him.
But hey, if all else fails, there’s bound to always be a spot for him on the Keys & Gray Show.