The summer of 2018 was a memorable one from an English perspective. The sun was a permanent fixture in picture perfect blue skies, Love Island was in full flow, and most mind-blowingly of all Gareth Southgate’s revitalised Three Lions roared their way through to the World Cup semi-finals.
Fast forward to the summer of 2019 and while the scorching weather has arrived late to the party, Love Island is once again gripping a drama-craving nation, as is a certain Phil Neville, whose Lionesses have just booked their spot in the World Cup semi-finals following a comprehensive 3-0 last-eight victory over Norway.
Multiple similarities can be drawn between former England teammates Southgate and Neville. Both were surprise appointments in their respective managerial jobs. Both proceeded to lead England through to a World Cup semi-final in their first major tournament at the helm. Both love a pristine waistcoat, and both have implemented an expansive, possession-based style of play.
A record-breaking audience of 7.6 million watched on as England’s intricate passing perplexed the Norwegians in Thursday’s quarter-final clash. Gone is the gritty, defensive, fighting football usually associated with England, and in its place is a refreshingly technical, skillful, and above all entertaining brand of football.
Neville has played a pivotal part in this transformation. The former Man Utd and Everton player was a controversial and unexpected appointment in the early days of 2018. He had no experience of women’s football and had never held a permanent managerial post, while sexist tweets had been unearthed which didn’t paint him in a positive light.
Neville, who has a 68.2% win rate, has since won numerous admirers through his hard work, leadership, and affable yet respectable nature. He’s also not afraid to dish out a rollocking or two.
Neville has created a winning environment and propelled England into the top echelons of women’s football; after an historic SheBelieves Cup success earlier this year, and now a riveting run through to the World Cup semi-finals, during which the Lionesses have won every one of their five games.
"The minute he came in, we knew what we were going to get from him: respect and discipline,” revealed England right-back Lucy Bronze to BBC Sport. He's changed little things like that but he's made so many personal relationships with the players, which I don't think we expected. He makes every player feel special."
Neville repaid the complements after Bronze’s star performance in the Norway triumph: "I played full-back but never, never, ever to that level she plays at. She's the best player in the world."
The Lionesses must now await the victor of France vs United States, as the hosts face the holders in a match which has been billed as The Game Of The Century. However, one thing is for sure, neither country would fancy facing Neville’s England, who have history in their sights.