England head coach Phil Neville admits he didn’t agree at first with how his players wanted to find out if they were or weren’t in his World Cup squad, but after being left out of three squads himself, went along with their wishes.
The players all received an email at 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning, or as Neville joked, “around 2 a.m. for Rachel Daly and Jodie Taylor,” and there was a further option for players to utilize a phone call with the head coach later in the day, whether they’d made the squad and were part of the 13 who hadn’t.
Drawing on his own experiences of being left out of three separate World Cup squads as a player, Neville was happy in the end to bow down to what his players wanted.
“The first time I was left out, we had to go into the manager’s room,” he recalled. “We were given a note and then told to leave half an hour later. After France ’98, it bothered for six months, I thought everything about the process was wrong.
“But in time I realized there was no right why to find out and when I thought about this announcement it was about how we did it. We sat down with the players and decided how we’d do it, it actually wasn’t a formula I necessary agreed with, but it’s what the players wanted.”
Getting Down to Business
Neville settled on his squad more than a week ago in a lengthy meeting with his technical staff and admitted in his press conference he wanted to tell the players immediately, but now that he’s been able to inform them of his decision, his message to the 23 selected is clear.
“We spoke to those that made the squad yesterday and the first thing I said to them was ‘Remember those who aren’t here, remember those that have played their part,’ humility is a big part of our squad and we’ve got to show that.
“But I told them they’ve got to enjoy this because it’s the pinnacle. In 30 days’ time we’re going to a World Cup, if you can’t tell the world you’re going to a World Cup, now is the moment to do it. What we’ve done today is special, it’s befitting [of the players] and tomorrow we’ll be sending another email out saying it’s time to get down to business.”
Looking back on his time in charge, Neville added, “I look at what I’ve done over the last 16 months, we’ve had honest face-to-face conversations and I didn’t want them to think we were shying away from that honest conversation. I respected that they wanted to celebrate or deal with the disappointment in their own house and their own space. It’s something I’ve learned over the past year; they like that and want to do that. In the end, I didn’t agree with it because my philosophy is to deal with things face to face but we did have those conversations later in the day with those who wanted them.”
For some players, it’s their first major tournament, with more than a third of the squad embarking on their first senior tournament and another three heading to their first World Cup.
For Jill Scott and Karen Carney, both are now heading into their fourth World Cup, a feat unrivaled in English women’s football and only matched by Sir Bobby Charlton in the men’s game.
“It’s a fantastic achievement,” said Neville, on Scott and Carney. “Karen’s influence on the pitch is fantastic and Jill has scored a lot of goals for me. When you’re picking eleven players it’s very hard to leave Jill out of a team. They’re there on merit, not just because of their experience.
“The journeys players like Jill, Karen, Fara Williams have been on. I remember sitting down with Fara after we played Bosnia last year and her telling me what it used to be like, same with Jill. They had no balls, no bibs, no pitches, they were treated so badly and the younger players in my squad have never experienced that. They’re coming in with that fearless attitude and they’re coming into win.”
Neville now has no thought of managing expectations. England is comfortably placed rankings-wise as one of the top teams in the world and are coming into the tournament off the back of two consecutive semifinal appearances, including a bronze medal at the last World Cup in Canada.
The head coach admits he’s received advice telling him the opposite, but he has no interest in trying to halt the momentum his team and the sport as a whole has behind it right now.
“I remember after the Wales game getting a text saying I had to handle the expectation and not get carried away but I said we’re not walking backwards now, we’re charging forwards, and that’s why we’ve been brave in everything we’ve done.
“It’s what we’ve always wanted, the big occasions. England versus Scotland, millions of people watching back home, that’s what the players who used to have no balls and no bibs want, we all wanted to get to this stage. Now we’re here we can’t be fearful of it, that’s the team’s philosophy and my philosophy. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but my god when we get to Nice we’re going to enjoy it.”
Looking ahead to the tournament, Neville made it clear he already has a good idea of how he’s going to tackle a tournament in which England will have to play seven games in quick succession in potentially tough conditions if his side want to bring the trophy home.
With a tough group including rivals Scotland and 2011 champions Japan, Neville is already thinking about how he’s going to handle his squad and will look to use as many of his 23 players as possible.
“We’ve always made five or six changes minimum every single game,” he said. “We can’t use the same eleven every game at the World Cup. We need freshness. We looked at the stats and the team that wins the World Cup uses 18 to 19 players and we’ll do the same, if not more, because I trust every single one of them to play in every single game. The group stage is key because you need to go into the knockouts with fresh players so there will be rotation in those games.”
With versatility key in Neville’s squad, especially those who are likely to be outside the first choice starting 11, Neville has clearly drawn on his own experience as a highly versatile player when it comes to the selections of players such as Rachel Daly, Leah Williamson, Abbie McManus, and Co.
Lucy Bronze, too, has more recently been used in a highly talked about center midfield role, and Neville stuck to his guns when confirming he will continue to do so if necessary, as well as elaborating on how he keeps players happy when continuously moving them around different areas of the pitch.
“She’ll [Lucy Bronze] do both,” he admitted. “She’s the best right back in the world but I’ve seen great potential in what I saw at SheBelieves and against Canada, so she’ll be used in both positions.
“I think Rachel Daly is a great example. I remember her telling me at the start she wanted to play one position and she was fed up of being moved around but now she doesn’t moan because she knows she has my belief and that’s the most important thing. If you’re just getting switched around because you’re jack of all trades, master of none it’s different, but when I used to do it I knew it was because the boss believed in me in that position. In terms of Lucy and Rachel, we worked two months with Lucy to play midfield against the USA so she knew it wasn’t on a whim and Rachel knows whichever position I put her in I believe in her — if the player knows that then there’s no problem.”
Despite naming 13 players he says he “fully trusts” on a lengthy standby list, Neville is now praying none of his stars pick up injuries with the likes of Jordan Nobbs already missing the tournament.
It’s for that reason he’ll be avoiding the final day of FA Women’s Super League action this weekend and he admitted he “didn’t enjoy” the recent FA Cup final.
“I had my physio one side and my masseur the other,” he joked. “I didn’t enjoy it and I’m not going to a game this weekend because I don’t want to see anything. I watched Everton versus Arsenal and Beth Mead got a bad tackle and I thought, ‘She’s out of the World Cup,’ so I’ll be turning the TV off for a few hours on Saturday.”