Phil Neville in a tough position
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Defeat to Japan has come alongside a mounting stack of questions for Phil Neville. It's fair to say that he's bad cushier days in the hot-seat! 

When Neville was announced as manager of the England Women's National Team, there was an element of skepticism. The former Manchester United star had never been a manager but his experience in the men's game was deemed sufficient for the role. 

It hasn't all been bad for Neville. He had won the SheBelieves Cup in 2019 and, later in that year, lead a very promising World Cup campaign. Their success in the latter tournament may have stagnated after their defeat to the United States but they had played a really exciting and progressive standard of football. 

Rabbit hole

Sadly, that defeat to the Americans prompted a downward spiral for the Lionesses. They embarked on a run of just two victories in their next seven matches. Promisingly, they entered the SheBelieves tournament on the back of a 3-2 win against the Czech Republic. But it was false optimism. 

Neville talked about how seriously he wanted to take this tournament. It has gone terribly. He was fortunate that Ellen White was on hand to edge them past the Japanese because, if she wasn't, the team wouldn't have won any of their matches. 

Chasing greatness can inevitably lead to disappointment. Neville's obsession with toppling the United States was understandable, if naive. The Americans are warriors. They have experience and personality in abundance, headed by the fearless Megan Rapinoe. That is a reputation which has been forged over a long time. 

Shortcomings

It seems harsh to think the players aren't playing for Neville. His relationship with his squad has been one of the strongest points in-favour of his management. 

In February, Neville talked at length about individual players and expressed genuine emotion when discussing the injury to Beth Mead

"I was at the game at Chester the other night and you knew as soon as she went down that something wasn’t right," he recalled. 

"I went down to see her and was obviously concerned. Hopefully she will be back soon and it’s not too serious.”

It seems tough to imagine that his squad don't want to perform on the field. Their manager clearly has a strong bond with his players but, sometimes, that's not enough. 

Neville also talked candidly about winning this competition to boost squad morale and tournament experience. 

"I don't think it is a tournament where I am going to treat it as an experiment.

"We want to win, the players want to win and, if we experiment against the USA, we'll get beat. You've got to go out there and use every golf club in the bag, use all the ammunition you've got, to beat these teams."

He was in buoyant and bullish mood ahead of the tournament, looking ahead to the Olympic Games and Euro 2021 with optimism. Whether he will still be around to oversee those events remains to be seen. 

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