England Women earned qualification to the 2019 World Cup with victory over Wales on Friday, inspired by the meticulous manager Phil Neville who wants to learn from Gareth Southgate’s summer successes and capture the imagination of the nation.
When ex-Manchester United and Everton star Phil Neville was appointed as England Women manager, many eyebrows were raised. Why choose someone with no experience in the women’s game? Does Phil Neville have what it takes to control and coach these players? Has he got the resilience to lead them to the World Cup?
However, nine months into his tenure, Phil Neville has put all the questions to bed and proved the doubters wrong as England Women came out victorious in a crucial grudge match against Wales at Rodney Parade.
The crowd at Newport County’s stadium was a record for a women’s football match in Wales, at 5053.
This was telling, as Wales had a fast start and settled the quickest. The Welsh were turned down a penalty, much to the dismay of the watching crowd, but replays showed Karen Bardsley made an excellent save and won the ball.
Something Phil Neville said at half time evidently worked, as his side came out of the traps in the second period at lightning speed. Toni Duggan opened the scoring with a brilliant finish on the volley, and Jill Scott doubled this advantage just three minutes later with a looping header.
The duo know each other well from Manchester City, with Scott now plying her trade at Barcelona – together they represent some of the experienced heads in the group and Neville says they will be vital at next summers World Cup in France.
Another Manchester City star, Nikita Parris, added salt to the Welsh wounds, with a tap in to put the game out of site and send The Lionesses to the biggest stage of them all.
Although the victory is on the players, gaffer Phil Neville rightfully takes a lot of praise. In his first managerial role, his meticulous style is becoming evident.
Neville, who tries to imitate his mentor Sir Alec Ferguson, draws heavily on mentality, believing that the mentality of his players is key to success. It is an old school approach but so far it is paying dividends.
Just nine months into his tenure, Phil Neville has reset the narrative of the women’s game in England. Slowly, women’s football is advancing from the desire to increase participation rates, to dreams of World Cup glory.
His approach is holistic and emotionally intelligent.
“I know every part of their lives. I know about their animals; if they’ve got a dog, I know it’s name”, Neville told The Guardian, ahead of Friday’s crunch match.
“I know if they go to the cinema – it’s the detail you need to be successful. If they have an ice cream I know about it.”
The six time Premier League winner is clearly an admirer of the finer details, but when you get so little time to work with a squad, this is key. Neville will surely admit that he has taken inspiration from the management of Gareth Southgate and assistant Steve Holland in Russia this summer.
The men’s team duo also had an eye for the finer things, often spending hours practicing the same free kick routine. As we know, this worked.
Neville has 30 separate WhatsApp groups with each player and some coaching staff, to know every facet of their lives. He has gone the extra mile to get to know his players off the pitch and this has been crucial for raising the team spirit, with many players citing this as a reason for increased belief in the camp.
England Women have a realistic ambition in France to go a fair distance in the World Cup and this is testament to Phil Neville.
The ambition for England Women is still to increase participation rates in the women’s game, but in a different manner now. Before, it was simply a ‘give it a go’, but now it is for girls to be inspired by England Women doing the country proud on the biggest stage.
Phil Neville has spearheaded the qualification and he strides to continue this dual ambition – World Cup glory and to inspire the next generation of female footballers.
Next up for The Lionesses is an away game against Kazahkstan in the last qualification match. Neville’s side are already qualified so the pressure will be off, but they will still aim to win the game.