Why England Women's team has improved under Phil Neville
In September 2017, the legion of controversies demonizing Lionesses boss Mark Sampson finally forced the English FA to react. They swiftly brought down the axe on the Welshman and the search for his successor began. It led them to the doorstep of former Everton skipper Phil Neville.
Neville’s appointment was met with public outcry. Proponents of the women’s game bemoaned why a woman wasn’t appointed. Others lamented the hiring of an inexperienced ex-footballer who had only been in charge of one senior game – at Salford City – a team he co-owns with some of his Manchester United buddies from the Class of 92.
All that seemed easy to overlook when compared to Neville’s tweet-gate. In 2012, the former Manchester United defender put out a tweet which was considered sexist and derogatory to women. Although Neville deleted his Twitter account because of the incident, screenshots of the tweet were plastered all over the internet. Public opinion was split with majority asserting the FA didn’t follow due diligence in hiring the former wing-back.
As is the case with all media brouhaha, the storm calmed quickly as soon as Neville named his first England squad in preparation for the She Believes Cup. The Lionesses finished second in the four-team tournament after a narrow 1-0 loss to the United States. But they thrashed France 4-1 and held Germany 2-2. The cohesion in the team was building intentionally and steadily.
Having warmed up his girls with the She Believes Cup, Neville stared at his biggest challenge yet. He had to get the Lionesses to qualify for the 2019 World Cup to be held in France. There were nervy moments but Neville’s team secured a ticket to France with a game to spare. Wales, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Russia were all swept aside in the run in.
Under Neville, the Lionesses have moved up to third in the latest FIFA world rankings. They’ve been there before. Still, it just feels good to be back. England is playing some exciting football – they’re keeping clean sheets and scoring lots of goals. They put three past Wales in August and hit Kazakhstan for six in September.
What’s Neville doing right?
It’s true that Neville has never really managed a top team before. Regardless, his performance with the Lionesses spells quality management to the tee. The 41-year-old is checking the right boxes.
Neville has created a very friendly environment in his England team. He achieved that by man-managing each player and keeping tabs on their daily activities. He’s the sort of manager who checks up on each of his players by messaging them on WhatsApp.
“I text them individually and we have 30 WhatsApp groups, one for every player. It’s the only way we can be in constant contact. It means that every single minute of the day I know what players are doing.” Neville.
Neville’s emotional approach is yielding dividends. Players are getting in line with his project. Big players in the team like Lucy Bronze, Jordan Nobbs and skipper Steph Houghton have all voiced their admiration of the manager’s methods.
Young players have also been given a chance to shine in Neville’s side. Reading’s Lauren Bruton and Birmingham’s Lucy Staniforth both earned their full debut under the present gaffer.
But Neville had help. Mo Marley, a remarkable tactician who held the fort after Sampson was shown the door, agreed to stay on as Neville’s assistant. It was Marley who helped him settle quickly into his new role. She can’t be alienated in any discussion regarding Neville successful start.
The World Cup would provide a proper assessment of Phil Neville’s work as England manager. For now, he’s silencing the critics.