The FA have created the conditions for the Philip Neville controversy

Words by Natasha Henry Illustration by Philippe Fenner
January 24, 2018

The Football Association has spent much of the past 12 months fighting one fire after another and the installment of the Philip Neville as the new England Ladies manager could well be the latest if it goes the same way as their handling of the Eniola Aluko discrimination case.

The former Manchester United player has been appointed as national team boss on a three-year contract which will see him take charge of the team for the 2019 World Cup and the 2021 European Championships, should he remain in charge until that point.

While everyone involved with the Lionesses will be wishing Neville the best of luck, the act of appointing someone with zero managerial experience – at any level – suggests the FA is still struggling in their quest to make the right decisions for women’s football.

Yes, he was hugely successful during his playing career, but his ability to run a team are unknown. Even with a prestigious list of trophies on his CV, does this immediately mean he will be successful in the dugout? After all, far better players than Neville have struggled to make the transition from player to manager. His brother, of course, being the obvious example.

Contrary to some suggestions, Neville’s gender is far from the issue; but his knowledge of the game and his ability is. In what other country could you imagine the third best team in the world giving their top job to a candidate with no experience in a similar capacity. With the greatest of respect, is coaching United, Valencia and England u21s an acceptable precursor to taking the biggest job in the country? He wouldn’t get the equivalent men’s job, so why is he deemed good enough for the Lionesses?

Along with questions over his suitably, can they be sure he is committed to a setup he seemed uninterested in until recently? At least publicly. One also has to wonder if he would have been so keen to take this opportunity if there had been one on the horizon at a men’s club.

And it is not just the senior team who will be affected with the age groups continuing to impress and a strong core of young players coming through. It is vital whoever is in charge is actively involved in helping the next generation continue the success and the standard that has been set by the current squad.

He is blessed in the fact he will have an intelligent and knowledgeable team around him that includes former Arsenal and England star Casey Stoney and Mo Marley, with the latter having held the caretaker role in the interim since Mark Sampson’s sacking. Marley had been many people’s choice to take over and the rumours that she didn’t want the job also raises more questions about the atmosphere which has descended on the women’s game in recent months.

The worry is that the FA has created a scenario where the biggest names in the game aren’t interested in taking over the national team. Not to mention the suggestion that a current Women’s Super League boss wasn’t even granted an interview, even more so when it eventually went to someone who didn’t even apply.

Sadly – and as has been the case before – it’s a situation entirely of their own making. Their failure to ensure that those managing at club level in the women’s game have the support required to increase their qualifications at the highest level has left them in a situation where their current appointment will be dissected and scrutinised at every turn. Their inability to ensure that those managing at club level in the women’s game have the support and facilities to increase their qualifications at the highest level has left them in a situation where their current appointment is now facing dissection and scrutiny at every turn. They failed to ensure they had a candidate suitable for the role, so have ended up employing someone of little obvious merit.

They failed to prepare and any failings from now on in will be watched by all. Hopefully it won’t be to the detriment of the Lionesses.

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