It’s the process – not the person – that’s the issue


England Press Conference - UEFA European U21 ChampionshipsA new managerial appointment in football is supposed to bring feelings of hope, optimism and positivity. It’s the dawn of a new beginning.

But Phil Neville’s announcement as the next England women’s boss could not have felt further from that.

The former Manchester United and Everton defender may be deemed a great player of the recent past by some but his lack of managerial experience poses a real concern given the fact he has been tasked of taking charge on of the best teams in international football.

And by that, I mean that he has only ever taken charge of one game and that was in the lower leagues.

It’s not Neville himself that is the main issue here though. For me it’s the process by which he has been selected.

Baroness Campbell claimed yesterday that there were 147 applicants from 30 countries for the job, yet there were only ever two we heard about in the media – Neville himself and then-caretaker manager Mo Marley.

Not only that but Neville had been linked to the job for weeks before it was officially given to him. It was obvious in the past month that he was going to get the role, to the point at which it seemed as though the FA were going through the motions by interviewing anyone else.

In my opinion, this selection sends out a strong message that the England women’s team is being seen as a proving ground for Neville to trial his worth as a manager. That stinks.

We all know that the FA are desperate to find young, exciting, successful home grown managers and rightly so. The fact that only Eddie Howe and Sean Dyche are the only Englishmen under the age of 50 leading Premier League sides is worrying.

But the women’s team should not be used as an experiment to find the next mercurial talent. They are a serious outfit and should be treated as such. The demonisation of the FA over this appointment highlights just how much the respect has grown for the team in recent years.

Furthermore this selection shows that, despite the public admiration for the Lionesses, the national governing body still views these players as inferior to not only the senior men but also the junior ones as well.

If the FA are so desperate to test how good he is why not put him in a position of authority in an age group side – away from the spotlight – and groom Neville by working him up through the ranks, much like what many will suspect is happening with Steven Gerrard at Liverpool?

Simply put, this controversial selection not only attracts more criticism for the FA but could also backfire spectacularly. The team’s superb third-placed finish at the 2015 World Cup has put them on a pedestal that means failure to replicate or better this next year will cause the doubters to come down hard on the governing body.

It is also unfair on the ‘Class of 92’ member as well as ultimately this could ruin any managerial career he wants in moments. It’s obvious he wanted this job but is it right for him? In my opinion the answer is obvious – no.

Of course Neville could prove us all wrong, be an instant success and lead the Lionesses to World Cup glory next year. But that is a huge ‘if’ and one which should not even be being considered.

On the other hand though, some of the criticism surrounding his appointment is – in my opinion – almost as laughable as the decision itself.

How on earth can we tell Neville won’t know how to work with women? Where is the proof to suggest that will be the case? I know from personal experience that playing with men in teams sports doesn’t necessarily mean that you will prefer to lead them.

I actually found coaching girls and women in both cricket and cheerleading easier than taking charge of guys because, on the whole, I get along with them better. And that’s not a boast, it’s just the truth, probably because I was close to my mum and sister growing up.

Like me, Neville grew up in a stable household with a mum and sister so there is no reason to suggest he might not be the same.

His tweets haven’t helped his case either but we should not judge a person based on just 140 characters. That’s not to say I condone what he said as those comments were stupid and derogatory but how can we tell that’s what he actually thinks of women?

The long and short of it is that I think it’s not Neville who is the problem here but the FA. Once again they seem to be stuck in the dark ages, failing to recognise the remarkable rise women’s sport finds itself on and seeing the Lionesses as some sort of petrie dish. Let’s just hope for their sake it works out.

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