‘People want me to fail’: Phil Neville eager to prove his critics wrong as England manager

Phil Neville has been here before.

The doubters taking a potshot. The critics having a field day.

The former Manchester United and Everton midfielder was forced to repeatedly defy the doubters during his career – with much success, it has to be said – and now the 41-year-old is on the other side of the touchline, the situation remains the same.

His appointment five weeks ago was controversial and sparked debate within the game. Many are still uneasy with a man with no experience in women’s football landing the plumb job.

Phil Neville wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: phil-neville.jpg© Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited phil-neville.jpgA few sexist tweets which were dredged up did little to fan the flames of discontent.

Neville, however, is made of stern stuff.

No-one comes through the ranks under Sir Alex Ferguson with a soft underbelly and as his England team prepare to take to the field in the SheBelieves Cup against France on Thursday, anyone with the temerity to doubt his credentials was given short shrift here in Columbus.

Yes, he knows people want him to lose. He’s fully aware people expect him to fall on his face.

Losing captain Steph Houghton, her deputy Jordan Nobbs as well as leading striker Karen Carney to injury has made the task here all the more daunting.

Steph Houghton smiling for the camera: Houghton-Getty.jpg© Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Houghton-Getty.jpgNeville, however, is bullish. Winning next summer’s World Cup in France is the ultimate goal. Installing legendary striker Casey Stoney into his backroom staff has been a masterstroke in pulling together a fractured squad who’ve seen Mark Sampson’s reign put the Lionesses into the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

”People are going to be watching this game wanting us to lose,” he conceded.

“We know that is going to happen. People want me to fail. 100 per cent. They want me to come here and lose all three games. But do you know what? That’s just how it was in my playing career.

“It’s part of my motivation. The team have got their motivation, I have got mine. It is to show people that we will be successful.

image© Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited image“I think it’s the English mentality of wanting people to fail. I’m sure Gareth Southgate feels the same way sometimes. But also, I think it was a surprise to people that I wanted to take this job and the negativity that surrounded it, there are people who want me to fail. The way I’ve been received inside the women’s game has been nothing short of fantastic.”

England have competed in the annual tournament for the past two years – and have just two wins to show for their efforts.

It’s a poor record which must be improved over the next week and a half though and with France 2019 in mind, a spike in fortunes will set Neville up for the task ahead.

Germany and the USA – currently ranked No 2 and No 1 in the world respectively in front of England – will provide the sternest of tests.

“I’m not going to be judged by my bosses at The FA off these three games,” stressed Neville.

“But they know they are three massive games and if you look at England’s record in this tournament, we have found it difficult to win games. It’s going to be no different this time. But this is a chance for us to make a statement.

Phil Neville wearing a suit and tie: skyline-phil-neville-1.jpg© Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited skyline-phil-neville-1.jpg“If we had played a team who we are better than in my first game and won three or 4-0, I wouldn’t have learned anything. I have already learned that the players who are here want to be here. And I know over the next 10 days what standards are required. We are playing the No 1 and No 2 teams in the world and I will see them at eye level. We will see how good they are.

“This is a chance for us to make a statement.”

Youngsters Rachel Daly, Abbie McManus and Georgia Stanway were all called up following the withdrawals of Houghton, Nobbs and Carney. Manchester City keeper Ellie Roebuck , 19, has also been included on the trip for some invaluable experience.

Their last-minute arrivals would have daunted many but Neville, much to his sheer delight, found this was far from the case.

”We had a brilliant moment on Monday night when the four young girls I’ve called into the squad, we made them stand up in front of the group and explain what playing for England meant to them,” he revealed.

“I’ve got to say, it’s one of the best moments I’ve had in football. It was emotional. It means the world to them.

“I called Georgia Stanway on Saturday evening, she had played for Manchester City against Chelsea and was on her way back up to Barron-in-Furness with her dad in the car.

“She was at the Tickled Trout services in Preston and I had to ask him to come off the motorway and turn back around and bring her back down to us because I’m picking her for England.

“When you get moments like that, the joy, she said she would run down to meet us.

“Those are the type of players I want.”


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