2019 Women's World Cup: Phil Neville ready to step out from the shadows with Englandby Chloe Beresford / 05 June 2019, 13:30Tweet
It must be tough to be Phil Neville sometimes.
The 42-year-old enjoyed a superb football career on the surface, winning three league titles, the FA Cup on three occasions and the Champions League with Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United. He went on to make 242 appearances for Everton, in addition to 59 caps for England.
Yet he has always been judged in the shadow of his brother Gary, the latter sibling the more talented footballer of the pair.
Now, as Phil prepares to take England’s women’s team to the World Cup in France, he has a chance to step away from that judgement, to prove that he is capable of creating his own, distinct legacy.
Just as former international team-mate Gareth Southgate built success for the Three Lions at last summer’s unforgettable tournament in Russia, Neville hopes to inspire glory in the Lionesses through the lens of his own England failure.
The Bury-born Coach became a media hate figure after Euro 2000, his appallingly mistimed tackle handing Romania a last-minute penalty that led to another premature tournament exit for the so-called “golden generation” of England players.
“Rather than think about that tackle, it’s the redemption of: I want to be a success as part of an England team,” Neville told The Telegraph.
“I was involved with probably the best group of England players that’s been produced since ‘66, and we didn’t win a tournament.”
As a player, he was always on the fringes of the World Cup, but Neville was never once selected in a final squad. If he, like Southgate, can use that bitter disappointment as fuel to lead the England Women’s side on to glory this summer, then so be it.
You could say that he is underqualified in terms of a management role, yet the boss has been highly praised for the work done so far. He has instilled a sense of pride into his players, filling them with tales of how much it means to pull on a national team shirt. It’s an admirable sense of patriotism, but Neville is far from a dogmatic Coach.
He has demonstrated flexibility in giving players time with their families, working around the times that they need to be focussed on the job at hand.
Recognising the importance of certain characters in the dressing room, Neville has also ensured that key midfielder Jordan Nobbs – who will miss the tournament due to an ACL injury – will still travel to France in order that she continue her role as leader in the side.
It’s a level of professionalism that has earned England’s women the respect they deserve. While World Cup preparations were interrupted for hosts France as they were shooed out of the training ground at Clairefontaine in favour of the men’s team, who were due to play a friendly, Neville works together with Southgate to make sure his women have equal access to their St. George’s Park base.
“Phil knows that whenever he wants to pick our brains on tournaments or our experiences then we are here to help,” Southgate told Reuters recently.
“It’s not for me to go knocking and tell him, he knows we are here. A lot of the medical teams and physical performance teams are sharing information... because that area in the women’s game has been underfunded and is better now because more of the bigger clubs are getting involved.
England secured a third-place finish during the last Women’s World Cup – held in Canada in 2015 – and before that had never progressed further than the quarter-final stage. With strong sides like USA and holders France in the mix, it is a tough ask for Neville and his team to win the competition outright this summer.
You get the feeling though, that here is a Coach ready to prove the doubters wrong, ready to be remembered for something far greater than that mistimed tackle 19 years ago.