Phil Neville has been appointed the new manager of the England women’s national team, signing a contract that runs through UEFA Euro 2021, and replacing the sacked and disgraced Mark Sampson. It’s an especially bad look for the FA that Neville thought sexist jokes were funny at least as recently as 2012.
Shortly after the hiring was announced, Neville deleted his Twitter account. But those tweets are hardly the biggest reason Neville’s appointment — especially in the wake of how Sampson’s firing went down — suggests the people in charge at the FA don’t take their women’s program seriously at all.
Neville has a UEFA Pro license, but has never been a manager, nor does he have experience whatsoever in women’s football. He’s coached at Manchester United and Valencia, but has worked primarily as a television commentator since leaving the former club in 2016.
By all accounts, England only considered five other candidates. Four of them — Emma Hayes, Laura Harvey, Nick Cushing, and John Herdman, all of whom are extremely qualified — turned the FA down cold. England youth manager and interim senior boss Mo Marley initially applied, but later withdrew her application.
But there are more than five qualified candidates for the position, and the FA did not have to be in a rush to appoint a new manager. The Three Lionesses’ next World Cup qualifying match isn’t until April. To this point, England has a perfect 3-0-0 record in qualifying with 15 goals scored and zero conceded. The team would have been highly likely to finish on top of its group without a permanent manager in place.
There’s also no reason to believe England had to settle, despite a handful of excellent candidates turning down the FA. Between the talent in the squad, the facilities and the financial resources available, there are very few women’s coaching jobs as attractive as England — even with the FA being a disorganized mess. A patient and competent search would have undoubtedly led to the appointment of someone with more experience in both management and the women’s game than Neville.
Maybe you think England just has a misguided idea about a big name in the men’s game bringing more attention and notoriety to women’s football, and that the appointment was made in good faith. But a well-run organization acting in good faith probably would have made sure those tweets were deleted and an apology was prepared before his hiring was announced. It also would have looked into accusations that Sampson had inappropriate relationships with players at Bristol Academy more seriously before he was hired, rather than firing him three years after it was presented with the information. It also would have taken accusations of racism against Sampson more seriously right away, instead of botching its handling of the situation so badly it had to investigate the same thing three times.
The FA hopes the England women’s recent good results have tricked you into thinking it takes women’s football seriously, but its actions suggest otherwise. The organization had a big opportunity to prove it had learned from its mistakes with Sampson and was ready to change, but that didn’t happen. Now Neville has to get on with navigating a world he has no experience in while his bosses are thrilled they get to start paying attention to literally anything else.