Neville’s leadership has England in Women’s World Cup semis vs. U.S. |
U.S./World Sports

Neville’s leadership has England in Women’s World Cup semis vs. U.S.

Associated Press
England coach Philip Neville (center) celebrates with his players defeating Norway in a Women’s World Cup quarterfinal match.

LYON, France — Phil Neville’s path to the Women’s World Cup semifinals began with a phone call persuading him to consider the England manager’s job.

Late in 2017, Sue Campbell, the baroness in charge of English women’s soccer, was bemoaning the lack of female coaches to fill the vacancy after assessing 147 potential candidates from across the world.

When Neville’s name was floated to Campbell as a possible replacement for Mark Sampson, he seemed an unlikely candidate. Not only did Neville lack experience in the women’s game, but he never never led a team at any level, though he had been a coach under other managers.

But Campbell thought it was worth a call to the former title-winning player with Manchester United who also had 59 appearances for England.

“I remember the first day I spoke to him on the phone, I’d never met him before,” Campbell told the Associated Press on the eve of England’s game against the United States in the World Cup semifinal on Tuesday. “I was speaking to see whether he would apply for the role. We must have talked for an hour-and-a-half, and I put the phone down and I just looked up and said, ‘That is who I’m looking for.’ ”

The reaction to Neville’s appointment in January 2018 was “skeptical,” as Campbell recalls. The early days on the job were blemished by Neville apologizing for old sexist tweets, and the FA faced criticism for overlooking women for the post.

“One of the first things he said to me is, ‘A woman should be doing this job,’ ” Campbell recalled. “And I said, ‘Yes but you know that isn’t where we are at this moment.’ He said, ‘Well I’ll help you develop women coaches.’ And he has. So he’s lived out everything I expected of him and more.”

An early mission was winning over players who only previously encountered him from afar during his playing career.

“We were a bit surprised, I think everyone was,” forward Fran Kirby said of Neville’s hiring. “When he first took the job, he probably wasn’t as aware as many others of the players he had, but we could see he believed in us straightaway.”

Neville encourages his players to express themselves, which produced success in March when England won the invitational SheBelieves Cup featuring the U.S., France, and Germany.

“He’s put a lot of confidence in us to be more brave on the ball and play out from the back,” defender Millie Bright said. “His attitude is that he’s never going to shout at us for making a mistake.”

Not that there have been many mistakes over the last month as England has made the semifinals with five victories, conceding only once — in the group stage opener against Scotland.

A turning point for Neville was the team bonding training camp in the Middle East in January, while still pained by a 2-0 loss to Sweden in November.

“That was the particular night I turned to my assistant (Bev Priestman) and said, ‘We’ve got it now,’ because we came together,” he recalled. “We put everything on the table. If we didn’t like each other, friendship groups, whatever, we stripped it bare and laid it on the table. There was a lot of honest conversations, and we came out of Qatar and won SheBelieves. And from then on we’ve been like a steam train.”

The bond with the squad has seen Neville publicly display a warmth and empathy that becomes clear when celebrating goals, conducting team talks on the field or consoling players.

He has also been blunt calling out the conduct of opponents at the World Cup: Denouncing Cameroon’s behavior in the round of 16 and chiding the Americans for “bad etiquette” for scoping out the England team hotel in Lyon.

The winner of Tuesday’s match gets to stay in that hotel.

Categories: Sports | US-World
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.