A reflection on the recent decision for Neville to step down from the Lionesses

Stuart Barker reflects on the decision for Phil Neville to step down from the Lionesses in 2021, featuring an interview from the Offside Rule Podcast with Chelsea’s Anita Asante.

It has been over a week since the Football Association announced that Phil Neville will not be extending his contract with the England Lionesses when it expires in July 2021.

Neville’s contract was set to cover the Women’s Euros which was to take place in England next summer as well as leading Team GB’s women’s team in this summer’s Olympics.

The Olympics have now been put back until July 2021 and the Euros postponed until June 2022.

It is yet unclear whether or not Neville will retain control for Team GB. The FA’s silence on the matter suggests that this is currently under review. 

It has been suggested in the media that there is a preference for the same coach to take charge for the Olympics, Euros and the World Cup in 2023.

The reluctance to confirm Neville remaining in charge for the Olympics could suggest that the FA have concerns about Neville’s ability to successfully lead the group to a medal at the games.

Many fans that I have spoken to consider Neville to be a lame duck and would support him stepping down sooner to allow his successor time to settle into the role.

Chelsea’s Anita Asante told The Offside Rule podcast

“Ultimately I think the Lionesses need a change and this probably comes at the right time.

“A lot of the players have been quite forthright in admitting that they haven’t been performing at their best of late and they want that improvement.

“In terms of Phil Neville, I think that his management of the media and the statements he has made have been very bold and direct, setting high expectations for the England team, as we want, but if you don’t match that then of course you’re going to have the kind of scrutiny that the national team is seeing now.

“In terms of timing, if they [The FA] feel they have a candidate in place to take over immediately then I would think it would be the honourable thing for him to step away as it’s about the national team and getting the national team into a position where they can have time to develop and improve.”

In a recent interview with MUTV Neville hinted that he may also be in favour of stepping down from the Lionesses before his contract expires so that he can focus on Team GB or even kick start the next phase of his career at club level. He said, 

“I think what I would say is that international management can be really frustrating. You only get the girls for twelve days and it’s really intense – then you let them go back to their club managers and you can’t impact them for another three or four weeks.

“I think, when you’re young in management and you’ve got that energy, the day-to-day is probably now the next thing I’m looking for. I want to impact players more than on the international level.”

He added that he is open minded about his future and that he will consider all options that come his way. 

There have been recent links with a job under Solskjaer in Manchester United men’s set up. I’d suggest that Neville sees himself as the main man and will want to be his own boss, so there could be more credibility in the rumours of him being interested in replacing Nick Cushing at Manchester City.

Neville’s tenure started strongly and the team’s performances in the 2019 She Believes Cup were important factors in raising awareness of the women’s game publicly and within the mainstream media.

Since the Lionesses impressive 3-0 against Norway in the 2019 World Cup things have gone from bad to worse, 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.

The Lionesses continued their post-World Cup slump during the 2020 She Believes 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.

The names who were linked with replacing Mark Sampson included coaches already within the women’s game, such as Mo Marley, Emma Hayes and Nick Cushing. So when Neville was announced it came as somewhat of a surprise to everyone. 

It was clear to see the appeal for the FA. Neville was a big name and under Sir Alex Ferguson’s guidance, he will have learnt what was required to win games and big trophies.

With regards to Neville’s replacement, Asante told The Offside Rule Podcast;

 “There is a wealth of great coaches and ultimately I think that it would be nice to see a female coach lead the national team but it is about the best person for the job regardless of gender.”

When asked about her boss at Chelsea, Emma Hayes, Asante distanced her from the role and said, 

“Emma has her sights set on making Chelsea one of the most dominant teams within the WSL and Europe. I honestly don’t think that she’ll be looking at this opportunity as something to take on.”

I believe that the FA’s number one target has to be Jill Ellis. She is the most qualified for the job and a decision to bring her in potentially with Laura Harvey as part of her coaching team could be a catalyst for success for the Lionesses.

We can all speculate but this story is likely to drag on for some time yet.

Follow Stuart on Twitter at @_chubarker

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