Where Did It All Go Wrong For Phil Neville And The Lionesses?

With eight defeats in 12 games, the England boss' future is in doubt
12:00, 27 Mar 2020

Winning, Phil Neville recently said at the SheBelieves Cup, is what would bring England’s women “togetherness”. 

“Winning is really important,” Neville told the media with profound sincerity. "Winning is what I think’s the most important thing about top-level sport."

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Just me, or was he stating the bleeding obvious here? No Sh*t Sherlock! But of course this issue is that England have not been winning. And as the pitch of their head coach’s voice reached its crescendo, so did the pressure on the FA to finally do something about it.

Amongst the various conundrums posed by the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics is whether to stick with their beleaguered Lionesses manager, who by then would likely be beyond his contract. 

They have at least used football’s current hiatus to hold talks about his plans going forward, but meetings ultimately proved inconclusive once again. Has Neville done enough to warrant a new deal? On recent results, there can only be one answer. A resounding no. 

England have lost eight of their last 12 games, there have been miscommunications with Women’s Super League clubs over injured players, and he has faced a media onslaught in the months following the 2019 World Cup. 

Yet despite all of that damning evidence, he is still popular with those whose opinion matters. Namely, Baroness Sue Campbell of the FA board, who wants the former full-back in charge for the Olympics in 2021. The 43-year-old’s superiors will be acutely aware, nonetheless, of what has gone wrong. 

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It has nothing to with Neville’s standing in the dressing room. He enjoys a close bond with senior players, such as Steph Houghton, that he spoke candidly with them about his future after the disappointment of the SheBelieves Cup. 

The fact remains that previously competent defenders have got worse under his stewardship and with increasing frequency, England look bereft of ideas elsewhere on the pitch too. It all points to a coach who is having to navigate many of the problems that existed before he took over. 

He rode the wave of optimism of the summer of 2019. The national embrace of the first England Women’s side to really capture the public imagination was one Neville was, quite understandably, happy to shelter under. 

But now his tactical weaknesses are being exposed. The shelter has gone. And this is particularly true regarding his in-game management, even if he has a detailed training programme and spent years preparing for his major job in coaching even before managing England was on the horizon. 

The scrutiny he has been placed under might attract sympathy, but it is not unfounded either. 

The former Manchester United and Everton defender is as frustrated as anyone that his side’s form has nosedived in half a year, and it may well be up to him to decide whether he is able to turn it around. 

If he comes to the conclusion that the answer is no, then England are left with the same dilemma as when they appointed him. None of the leading candidates, especially female ones, wanted the job. Neville’s plight is making it easier to see why.