“I feel now as if my feet are under the table,” said Phil Neville in August in the week leading up to the Wales match in Newport.
Last week, as his side prepared for two friendlies against Brazil and Australia, Neville expanded on his added comfort in the role by going as far to say there is now an understanding between he and his players.
“The biggest change was in the last camp where for the first time I think they got me,” he said. “It takes a while to get a philosophy across and after six or seven months I feel they understand what I want.
“I could take a step back, I could start delegating training sessions, the players were driving it and that’s utopia for a manager. I feel as if my staff and my players now get what I want and in such a short space of time it shows the desire and commitment this set of players and staff have got.”
With added comfort comes a Neville more at ease with his own decisions and he’s talking like a man who now knows he has full control as well as the trust of his players, adding England would “die trying” and “live and die” by his style of play.
It was a throwaway comment not too dissimilar to those thrown out by his predecessor but Neville’s new ruthlessness has to be backed up my results.
A 1-0 win over Brazil on Saturday and subsequent 1-1 draw against Australia threw up familiar memories for England fans.
A systematic failure to take chances when in a dominant position of authority didn’t cost England on Saturday but it did on Tuesday night when an equalizer less than ten minutes from time left Neville wondering what might have been and accepting his side needed to be more clinical.
But Neville’s new found confidence in his role appears to extend to his thoughts on how he intends to filter in the young talent that is lining up for a senior call-up.
Before the Wales match, Neville admitted to the media he wanted to bring in several of Mo Marley’s squad that had just returned from France with a bronze medal but was advised against it by his former temporary assistant due to the fatigue carried over from a tournament in which England played six games in a short space of time.
When asked about his decision to promote 35-year-old Siobhan Chamberlain in place of the injured Karen Bardsley at a press conference late last week, Neville went on the offensive and said he would put in his young players when it’s right, “not when a journalist or a fan wants to put them in.”
More long-term thinking is understandable and Neville appears to be taking a much more sensible view when it comes to when to promote a group of players still recovering from a grueling World Cup, but it’s a certainly a change in rhetoric from what the head coach had to say pre-Wales in August.
Speaking about his decision to bring in Chamberlain as opposed to FA Women’s Super League player of the month Sophie Baggaley, Ellie Roebuck, Sandy MacIver, or Becky Spencer, Neville said: “Ellie’s ill. I spoke to Sophie last week and she’s had a really good start to the season. Sandy has asked to stay out in the USA to finish her studies, it’s a long course for her and I think her and Ellie are very similar, both are close to being in my squad but Ellie couldn’t even go on Under 21 camp because she was ill.”
On Chamberlain, he added, “Siobhan was on standby because of her experience and because she’s had a good start to the season with Manchester United. I think people forget Liverpool didn’t have a goalkeeper coach last year, her form suffered for that. We know what we’re getting with Shiv. If we go to a World Cup and our first two goalkeepers are injured or not in form I’m going to need an experienced goalkeeper.
“We need to make sure the door is open and when everyone is fit one of my biggest decisions is in the goalkeeping department. Shiv is nowhere near the level to be written off but our young goalkeepers will be given an opportunity in November or January maybe.”
With plenty of games to come it does appear Neville intends on trying to bed in some of the emerging talent in the coming camps but he now finds himself in a Catch-22 situation between bringing in his young stars of the future and preparing his regular squad of 23 for next summer’s showpiece event.
Mark Sampson very much favored a staunch approach to regularly selecting unchanged squads in order to prepare for tournaments and went as far as naming his Euro 2017 squad three months before the tournament started in order to get the players ready for the challenge.
Neville will now be thinking along similar lines and it showed in his squad selection for the two friendlies just passed but with Sweden next month, along with a possible trip to Austria, followed by a January camp and SheBelieves, one wonders just if and when will be the right time to bring in those young players, but the head coach now admits this camp wasn’t the right time for it.
“I want to bring the youngsters through,” he pointed out. “But they’ve come out an Under-20 World Cup and they’re dead on their feet. Lauren [Hemp] has done her hamstring but her and Georgia [Stanway] will be in my squads. I have to look beyond the razzmatazz of ‘let’s just bring the young players through.’”
“If we do that now the expectation by the time we get to the World Cup will be of ‘She’s our savior.’ Lauren and the others will earn it and get it when they deserve it, they have a pathway. I spoke to her parents last week and she’s had a big few months, she’s moved away from home, which is a big thing for anyone that age. Add to that the England coach wheeling you out against Brazil, it doesn’t work if we want Hemp to be a golden boot winner like Marta.”
Neville went on to add, “People ask why are they not being given a chance too now but they need to keep their feet on the ground. Me, Mo, and Bev [Priestman] spoke to 40 young players in the Under-21 pathway, told them exactly where they stood and told them they could be going to a World Cup, an Olympics, and their home Euros.
“To bring them in the first game of a new season is not ethically the right thing to do. What we need to look at is how can we get four of those Under-20 players to a World Cup in nine months? That is not playing them against Brazil and Australia now. It might be next month, it might be January, or they might not even be ready, but there’s got to be a plan.”
Neville also drew on his own experiences of playing for Manchester United as a graduate of their successful youth team and how Sir Alex Ferguson protected him from certain scenarios he wasn’t ready for as a youngster.
“I was always looked after,” he said. “When I was a youngster I never played at Stamford Bridge because the boss wanted to protect me. Lauren needs to settle, Georgia needs to recover from the World Cup, Sandy needs to get her A-Levels, that’s more important than football.
“The others are on the right pathway. I’ve got to look beyond the knee-jerk. I’ve picked my team for the next eight to ten internationals and some of those include young players. We have to put them in when it’s right.”