Stuart Barker on the highlights and lowlights of Phil Neville’s time with the Lionesses, and who should be next in line for the job.
The worst-kept secret of the last 24 hours has been confirmed. Phil Neville will step down as manager of the Lionesses at the end of his contract in the summer of 2021.
Neville’s successor will be given twelve months with the team before leading the squad at the 2022 European Championships, to be held in England. The tournament was originally scheduled for next summer, which was when Neville’s contract was due to expire, but the COVID-19 pandemic led UEFA to postpone the tournament by twelve months.
Neville’s Lionesses started strongly at the World Cup but peaked in their impressive 3-0 against a strong Norway side. After that game, things have gone from bad to worse, with the team losing seven of the last eleven games and only narrowly beating a poor Czech Republic side 3-2 with an 86th minute goal from Leah Williamson.
Neville and his Lionesses continued their post-World Cup slump during the SheBelieves Cup in March. A poor 1-0 win against Japan failed to gloss over defeats at the hands of world champions the United States and Spain — a team who will also have high hopes going into the European Championships.
For many, including myself, Neville’s support and credibility was lost when after a friendly defeat to Norway he claimed “I have a vision that no one else has. I’ve got bravery that no other coach has. So thank your lucky stars. I think with the players we’ve got we can go far.”
With the WSL’s professional format, I would have hoped that the Lionesses would be asserting dominance on the world stage — but while many other sides are progressing well, the Lionesses have only regressed.
I’m happy to see Neville leave his role; the football has been poor, and even before last summer’s World Cup I hadn’t really been entertained. If the FA approach the best candidate and do not just opt for the biggest name, then I am confident that the Lionesses will have every chance of success in the European Championships.
I believe that the FA’s number one target has to be Jill Ellis. She is the most qualified for the job and they should move heaven and earth to bring her in, potentially with Laura Harvey as part of her coaching team. Harvey is currently coaching the United States’ U20 side but might be persuaded to return to the United Kingdom after spells managing Utah Royals and Seattle Reign.
I don’t believe there is any need to bring in a non-British coach; there is lots of knowledge and talent among the likes of Mo Marley, Emma Hayes, Casey Stoney and Mark Skinner. However, at 37-years-old Skinner might be better off remaining with Orlando Pride and waiting for his chance in the future, as the experience he’ll be gaining there will be valuable in the future.
The FA’s director of women’s football, Sue Campbell, said that ‘once football returns after this difficult period, Phil will continue his work with the Lionesses on the further development of his squad’, while plans for his successor are made by the FA. However, I think a better route of action would have been to make the next fixture his last. Neville deserves the opportunity to say goodbye and to be thanked for his hard work but if he remains in the role too long he will become a lame duck. I believe that he should step aside and allow his successor more time to build their team for what will be an important couple of years for English football.
Based on the timings I would expect that Neville will remain in charge of Team GB, although in their statement the FA said that discussions with home nations teams were ongoing. We’ll have to wait for news on that one.
Follow Stuart on Twitter at @_chubarker