When Phil Neville was appointed as the Lionesses manager two years ago, many questions were being asked. Predominantly, ‘how?’ and ‘why?’.
He was not an obvious candidate by any means. He had no previous experience coaching in women’s football. In fact, he had little coaching experience whatsoever with only a short stint as an assistant coach for Valencia, where brother Gary masterminded just three league wins from 16 before he was sacked.
Nevertheless, Phil Neville was divisively appointed as England Women’s football manager following Mark Sampson’s departure and he signed a contract expiring in 2021. To the relief of many and dismay of some, Neville has decided he will not be renewing his contract when it expires and instead will willingly hand the reins over to whoever the FA, in all their wisdom, choose to be next.
Perhaps the above is a little unfair to a man who led the team to their first She Believes tournament cup in 2018 , as well as a World Cup semi-final in 2019. He must also be given some credit for raising the profile of women’s football and the women’s national team which might have been the hope and reasoning behind his appointment as manager in the first place. Neville also successfully won over the players with Millie Bright telling Sky Sports News that “everyone is very grateful”.
Furthermore, figures like Emma Hayes and Sue Smith have all praised Neville for the impact that he has had and the mentality that he has instilled in the team with Sue Smith stating that “the players were believing they could be a top nation”. Hayes also thanked him for “always acting in the best interests of the game”.
However, the team has now lost 7 of their last 11 games, and many would argue that he has not taken the team to “the next level” as he promised two years ago. The recent run of form has not been good enough and the Lionesses overall win percentage of 54% under Neville is underwhelming, and significantly lower than Mark Sampson who received far less investment.
Whilst a decision on who will take over come 2021 has not been announced, Casey Stoney, who has received 130 England caps and currently manages Manchester United women’s side is being heavily linked to the job. Stoney oversaw the creation of a women’s team at Manchester United as well as leading them to WSL promotion and an FA Cup semi-final. Emma Hayes, Joe Montemurro, Nick Cushing and Jill Ellis have also been suggested as alternative candidates for the job.
With all of the efforts that the FA have put into raising the women’s game as well as encouraging the importance of women and girls actively being involved at all levels of the game, it would be perhaps more empowering than any adverts, slogans or programmes to see a woman given the top job in women’s football.