Jessy Parker Humphreys looks at what’s going wrong for England under Phil Neville.
There were questions from the start about Phil Neville as England Women’s manager. The lack of high level managerial experience, the decision to start following his new players on Twitter, his brazen confidence that despite misgivings he was fully deserving of the job. That confidence, or should we call it arrogance, has continued throughout his tenure as manager. And so have the questions.
Saturday’s loss against Brazil left them five games without a win – a poor run of form that hasn’t happened since Hope Powell was sacked in 2013. There are clear concerns about Neville’s tactical ability with England looking vulnerable defensively throughout the World Cup. Yet beyond his tactical shortcomings, there is also a rigidity around Neville’s team selection which makes recent results particularly hard to stomach.
Concerns around favouritism, to put it mildly, have fractured the English dressing room in the past. Whilst Neville has said that there is an increase in competitiveness for starting spots as the quality in the squad rises, that hasn’t actually been matched on the pitch.
There was criticism throughout the World Cup that Leah Williamson, easily the most impressive central defender (and a title winner) in the Women’s Super League, couldn’t get a look in, despite the fact that neither Millie Bright nor Steph Houghton looked particularly at ease. Williamson got a start in Middlesborough, probably due to Millie Bright having to pull out of the squad due to a knock, although Neville would undoubtedly take credit for it.
This unwillingness to move outside a settled formula continues throughout the team. There are obviously often benefits of sticking with a tried and tested formula but this England team looks more tired and tried.
Yet Neville refuses to give newer players a chance. He started with Jodie Taylor up front to replace the injured Ellen White who had led the line for the majority of the World Cup. Taylor, at 33, is no longer part of an up and coming generation within the team. Nikita Parris kept her regular spot on the right despite performing inconsistently for Lyon. Meanwhile players like Bethany England, who scored a wonderful header as a consolation goal for England, and even the slightly older Rachel Daly are still waiting to be given regular chances.
It seems unlikely that Neville will develop enough tactical nous to truly develop this team to the level they could be at. It is true that injuries have limited the pool of players he has had to choose from but, at least, he could start to blood younger talent. When England face Portugal on Tuesday, we might see whether he’s brave enough to try.
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