I will be watching with interest as Phil Neville makes the next step in his management career as he’s set to leave England’s women’s team for a club job.
But I can’t help thinking it’s a missed opportunity for the FA as he leaves big shoes to fill. Let me explain.
I had the privilege of taking Neville on his A coaching licence a few years ago and he listened all the time. He was always keen to learn, always asking questions – and what a nice chap too. I actually had the privilege of playing with him too, if only in a training match when I was working for the FA at Euro 2000 in Belgium, along with Kenny Swain.
He couldn’t have asked for a better grounding in his career than starting at Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson. He was a committed, hard-working player and a winner and that was nurtured through Fergie’s shrewdness and ruthlessness.
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He did a good job at Everton too and I always found him very approachable. He’s got no ego, he’s down to earth – and above all, he was always and will always be determined to be the best.
At the Women’s World Cup last summer you could see him really pushing his players and he did such a good job with England. He was leading his team forward and bringing women’s football to the forefront with it. Don’t forget there were 11.7 million people watching that semi-final, when they just missed out to the United States.
Then came an interview that still sticks with me. He called the subsequent third-place play-off ‘a nonsense game’ and he took some criticism and made some people angry that he had disrespected the England team which had finished third in 2015.
So he said: “Throughout my life, winning is all that matters, not finishing fourth, third or second, and my players feel exactly the same way as me on this matter – that we came to finish first.
“We’ve not disrespected it– we wanted to win more than anything. But we wanted to win gold, and that is why I said it is a nonsense.
“In 2015 we won bronze with magnificent performances, a manager (Mark Sampson) and a set of players that were great, and we celebrated and applauded. It’s now 2019 and the hurt in the dressing room is because we wanted gold, not bronze.”
It was typical of him – he’s an honest guy – and he was right.
This was a crossroads for the England women’s team. Should they be happy and celebrate reaching the semi-finals or should they power on to try to be world champions?
He put the ball in the FA’s court and unfortunately I don’t think they’ve backed him enough to get to that next stage.
If he thinks he’s taken England as far as he can it is bad news for England and damning for his bosses.
He’ll step down next month having previously hoped he would take the team to the Olympics, which has now been postponed until 2021.
I hope that his successor can pick up the baton and drag the team on to new heights but it will be difficult.
As for Neville, you can be sure he’ll leave no stone unturned as he re-enters the world of club football. I’ll be watching and cheering him on – and he won’t be happy unless he’s winning.
SO A date has now been set for the return of the Premier League and you can mark Wednesday, June 17 in your diaries for the start of saturation coverage of the end of 2019/20.
All matches will be shown live, every day, all week.
Everything else is pushed into the background – tennis, cricket, athletics, you name it has to take a back seat to football. I’m afraid that can’t be healthy.
I can’t tell you how excited I would be to watch games but unfortunately I’m looking forward to it less and less at the moment. I watch on TV to try to learn something these days rather than for the joy of watching football.
Of course it is only getting going again because of money. Apparently there’s a race to finish the season before August 2 so as to only pay back TV companies £170m of the £762m contract.
Well, as I’ve made clear over the past few weeks, I think it’s grotesque.
There are many problems, obstacles and objections that leave me scratching my head. Do they really need 25-man squads for nine matches? How can the team in fifth, due to Manchester City’s ban, really qualify for a tournament called the Champions League?
How can the rule for clubs in non-league or League Two not apply to everyone? How can we carry on when there are players genuinely and reasonably too frightened to join in training?
It is a surreal and sad situation.
NATHAN Jones has re-emerged as manager of his old club Luton Town. I think I had better leave it at that, this week!