The FA confirmed on Friday that England Women’s manager Phil Neville is to step down once his contract expires in July 2021, bringing a pretty hot and cold three-year tenure to a close.
The former Manchester United man guided the Lionesses to a World Cup semi final and SheBelieves Cup success, but has seen his stock fall dramatically since the summer following a series of underwhelming performances.
Let’s take a look at the ups and downs from his time in charge.
January 2018: Appointment
Phil Neville was given the England job in 2018, as every other respectable candidate withdrew following the FA’s handling of the Mark Sampson situation.
Just like how nice, polite Gareth Southgate was the perfect antidote to the Sam Allardyce catastrophe, the FA wanted a similar mould for the England Women’s job, and Neville fitted the bill; he wouldn’t upset the apple cart or speak out of line.
He even bought god damn a waist coat for goodness sake.
Unfortunately, these were the only real credible qualifications Neville had.
He had managed one football match before (Salford City versus Kendal Town), and the only experience he had in women’s sport was the fact that his sister Tracey coached the England netball team.
When he was revealed to the press, Neville claimed that people wanted him to fail. That definitely wasn’t the case, but he certainly had to prove some people wrong.
March 2018: SheBelieves Cup
Neville’s first match in charge could not have gone much better. The Lionesses confidently dispatched France 4-1 in their opening game at the annual invitational tournament.
A draw with Germany and a narrow defeat to the USA followed, but competing against the world’s best during his first three games in charge was a positive base to build on.
April – August 2018: World Cup Qualification
England struggled to breakdown a stubborn Wales side in Southampton, as they drew 0-0 despite dominating in Neville’s first competitive game in charge.
Qualification was secured against the same opposition four months later thanks to a routine 3-0 win in front of a partizan crowd in Newport. The draw against Wales in April was the only time the Lionesses dropped points throughout their qualification campaign.
March 2019: SheBelieves Cup Success
England grew with confidence as the SheBelieves Cup progressed. They stumbled past Brazil before drawing with the USA in a hugely entertaining affair, although they were guilty of suspect defending at times.
However, England turned on the style against Japan to record a 3-0 victory and win the SheBelieves Cup for the first time in their history.
Brazil and Japan were not the sides they once were, and the USA were not yet at their peak fitness, but England had demonstrated a real winning mentality for the first time. The faith Neville put in youngsters Leah Williamson, Keira Walsh and Georgia Stanway was refreshing, and the trio rewarded him with a selection of mature performances.
April – June 2019: Pre-World Cup Stutters
Just to ensure supporters didn’t get too carried away following their SheBelieves Cup exploits, England lost two of their final four friendlies before the World Cup.
The Lionesses lost 1-0 at home to both Canada and New Zealand, and the narrative was the same on both occasions; England dominated in the first half, didn’t take their chances, looked laboured in the second half and lost to a side they should have beaten.
June 2019: World Cup
Arguably Neville’s finest hour as England boss, and demonstrating how he was at his best when he was afforded so much time with his players, was when he guided the side to the semi finals of the 2019 World Cup.
England reached the quarter finals with a 100% record, showing flashes of brilliance and flashes of sloppiness in equal measure during victories over Scotland, Argentina, Japan and Cameroon.
Against Norway in the quarter finals, when there was a real growing expectation and pressure on the player’s shoulders, England rose to the occasion with their most polished performance of the tournament.
The 3-0 victory over Norway set up a semi-final with the might of the USA. England went toe to toe with the world’s best, and although beaten by the better side, only the finest of margins denied the Lionesses a spot in the final.
Neville’s decision to play Walsh over the more defensively minded Jade Moore was a brave, adventurous one, demonstrating his commitment to possession based football. And it was Walsh’s characteristic inch perfect diagonal switch to Beth Mead that led to England’s equaliser.
However, splitting up the fruitful partnership of Lucy Bronze and Nikita Parris down the right hand side in an attempt nullify the USA threat rendered Parris much less influential up front.
England lost the third place playoff to Sweden, which Neville branded a ‘nonsense’ game, despite fielding a full strength side.
August – November 2019: World Cup Hangover
The hangover that never went away. England won two from six after returning from the World Cup.
They looked disjointed, could not defend crosses for their life and were struggling to play out from the back.
Many supporters criticised the USA for celebrating when thrashing Thailand 13-0.
It’s better to arrogantly beat Thailand 13-0 than apologetically beat the Czech Republic 3-2.
March 2020: SheBelieves Cup
England mustered up one goal and one win during their limp SheBelieves Cup defence.
The players no longer looked like a team. They were suddenly playing worse for their country than they were for their clubs.
Neville’s continued investment in youth was still there, as Lauren Hemp burst onto the international scene. But it was one of the few silver linings.
England were going backwards when they should have been hurtling towards a home European Championships.
In the space of nine months and nine games, Neville had gone from being linked to the USA managerial position – arguably the most prestigious job in women’s football – to clinging onto the England hot seat by the skin of his teeth.