Opinion: Clutching at straws leads the FA to Phil Neville

A shortage of big name candidates led the English FA to believe that the former England international is the right man for the job.

Opinion: Clutching at straws leads the FA to Phil Neville
Neville at Goodison Park (photo: Getty Images / Robbie Jay Barratt)

When the whispers first surfaced that the Football Association were going to appoint Phil Neville as the next England manager, those who follow the women's game were incredulous.

The FA made those whispers a reality by confirming the appointment of the former England, Manchester United and Everton man as the person to lead the team until the end of the 2021 UEFA Women's Championships.

Desperation forces the FA into making an odd choice

It had been well documented that many of the candidates the FA could have preferred to appoint who have a background in women's soccer had pulled themselves out of consideration.

The likes of Laura HarveyEmma HayesBrian Cushing and John Herdman had all declined the opportunity to replace Mark Sampson, who had exited the role in disgrace after statements arose of inflammatory and racist behaviour by Sampson to Chelsea Ladies FC forward Eni Aluko.

The search began for a new manager to lead the 'Lionesses' while Mo Marley, who also pulled herself out of consideration, took over the team in the interim. With all of the obvious choices for the job pulling out, the FA decided to forgo anyone currently coaching in the FA Women's Super League or abroad in other leagues and looked within their own set up.

Enter Phil Neville. Neville has the required UEFA Pro Licence that the FA used to rule out the likes of the NC Courage's Paul Riley who had expressed interest in the job. Neville also had the benefit of working with the FA at St. George's Park where he had been involved with the England Men's U21 sides for a number of years.

The Englishman had also been a first team coach at Manchester United and Valencia CF after his playing career had ended, which altogether put him on the FA's radar. Choosing to use a different route to lead the team to greater heights is not a foreign concept on the international stage but to choose a man who has no managerial experience, in both the men's and women's game, for the highest position for any coach in England, smacks of a football association desperate to get a 'name' in the role and not have to put in any more work in filling a key role on the women's team.

Neville's qualifications make for dim viewing

Phil Neville has not lacked experience working in the back room in the men's game as previously noted. What he does lack however, is experience managing a women's team, at any level.

The first thing that comes to mind upon hearing exactly what Neville has done in the women's game, which is absolutely nothing, is how exactly do those who've toiled away for years in the women's game feel about being overlooked for someone with no experience just because he is "part of the set up", to quote Baroness Sue Campbell, the FA's director of women's football?

To them, it must feel like a gut check as it shows that the FA is more than willing to go with a name instead of someone who has the right experience and qualifications for the job.

Further research also shows that Phil Neville not only did not follow any of the current England internationals on social media until days ago and as of today, has not attended a single WSL 1 match or any of England's international matches.

Once again, the lack of knowledge that Neville comes into this job with is incredibly worrying for those of us on the outside looking in.

Some have suggested that Neville's appointment actually started out as a joke made by someone which the FA then decided to take seriously.

Eurosport's Carrie Dunn notes that the FA, during their search for an assistant manager, have noted that the person applying  should have "a track record of consistent and successful experience of development of elite women’s players with a minimum of two years' international senior team experience".

These are all qualifications that Phil Neville does not have or meet in any shape or form. So the question rises again about the FA's commitment to women's game and just how fully committed they are in selecting the right people for roles within the FA to push the women's game further on.

Questionable social media follows the news of Neville's appointment

Almost as soon as the announcement had been made, tweeted from his now-deleted account surfaced from Neville's timeline.

Tweets that, although were made some years ago, show just how far removed from the women's game Neville seems to be. 

He will be with a large group of women from now (he has arrived in La Manga, Spain to join the team's training for the 2018 SheBelieves Cup) until his contract ends. After everything that came to light about Sampson, the FA failed in their due diligence to at least ensure the man they were about to hire had some grasp of the situation he was entering.

Not only did Neville not address those tweets but he then proceeded to delete his account, as if to say "if it can't be seen, it can't be used against me any more".

The best way forward for him at this point would have been to get ahead of it and apologise for those statements but instead Neville backed away and the FA chose to ignore the furore. Again, it does not bode well for all parties involved given the way Sampson's tenure ended, if the answer to an issue is to act like nothing has happened.

For fans of the team and of the women's game overall, you'd hope that this is just a misstep, albeit a big one, of a man placed in a new and unfamiliar environment.