Phil Neville collected 59 England caps during his playing career, more than legendary players such as Paul Gascoigne, Stanley Matthews, and 1966 World Cup hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst, while a certain Gareth Southgate also failed to reach that figure.
Neville also featured in three major international tournaments, yet this summer will surprisingly be his first taste of a World Cup.
A video did the rounds recently showing Neville, now manager of the England women’s team, delivering an inspirational speech to his assembled Lionesses squad, during which he revealed why this summer’s showpiece spectacle in France means so much to him on a personal level.
“I’m going to tell you why I want to go to a World Cup,” began Neville.
His first heartbreak came in cruel fashion in1998 when England’s then assistant under manager Glenn Hoddle, John Gorman, told him he was in the Three Lions squad. He was obviously delighted. But this feeling of joy swiftly turned to anguish when he learnt of his brutal exclusion via a piece of paper that read: “You are not in the World Cup squad, you’ve got to meet downstairs in 30 minutes, you’ll be leaving with the other five players on a private jet home to Birmingham.”
Four years later, under the management of Sven-Goran Eriksson, Neville had high hopes of making the England squad after Ashley Cole ruptured his ankle. Again, his dreams turned to ashes. The crushing disappointment returned in 2006 when the Swede opted to overlook Neville once again, making it a World Cup heartbreak hat-trick.
Neville jokingly told the Lionesses that the moral of the above story was: “Don’t go to Debenhams,” the store he was in when Sven twice called him to deliver the bad news. Before he delivered this passionate passage: “The moral of the story is that I’ve not had the fortune to go to a World Cup. I’ve got goosebumps in this circle thinking you what if we’re together, we can win a World Cup. I want to win a World Cup because for three World Cups I got dumped on my a**. So I want to win a World Cup but you know what, I want us to go there and win it together.”
Neville was a left-field, and slightly controversial, appointment back in January 2016. It was described by critics as a “kick in the teeth” for qualified coaches, given that Neville had zero experience whatsoever in the women’s game. After all he didn’t even apply for the role, he was approached. Then, in his first interview he was forced to apologise for his sexist tweets from 2011 and 2012.
In the following 17 months Neville has transformed his reputation through his tough but fair approach, which in turn has seen the Lionesses record 10 of their 17 matches under his tutorship, and win SheBelieves Cup for the first time - a tournament that featured both of the 2015 World Cup finalists. England now know they have the players, mentality, motivation, and the manager to make history at the World Cup, as they bid to lift the trophy for the first time.