There’s a scene in Toy Story 4 where Woody gives up his voice box to a defective doll so that she can connect with children again. After listening to yet another pile of Phil Neville pre-match and post-match hokum at the SheBelieves Cup, perhaps it is time to pull off his drawstring. Mauricio Pochettino had a Buzz Lightyear in his office at Tottenham. Neville seems to have a motormouth that goes to infinity and beyond.
The 2-0 defeat to the United States in Orlando on Friday was all too familiar. Defensive blackouts are still the norm and this time Ellen White didn’t have any scraps to feed off to pull things round. In mitigation, Neville was keen to state that this was a team that was looking to the future, and one that didn’t have either Lucy Bronze or Beth Mead available.
While 19-year-old Lauren Hemp acquitted herself well, the structure and solidity were still nowhere to be seen. Pass and move has become pass to the opposition and move out of the way.
Nevertheless, P-Nev was adamant: “The gap hasn’t widened, that’s for sure. I still see a team willing to go out there and play against the best team in the world. The biggest obstacle is always the final bit – the last one or two percent – and going above them to try and beat them.”
The gap has widened, Phil, to Grand Canyon-like proportions. Since he took over the Lionesses in January 2018, England have dropped from third to sixth in FIFA rankings. Their record against teams currently in the top eight reads P10 W1 D4 L5. They have lost six of their past nine, only beating Portugal due to a goalkeeping howler and 28th-ranked Czech Republic through a late winner.
Tellingly, Bronze acknowledged that the former Manchester United and Everton defender has admitted “he’s not the best coach with the best tactics” but that his man management and relationship building with the players and staff has improved the team. That doesn’t reflect on the pitch.
On his appointment the 43-year-old gave a passionate defence of his credentials. “I am the best qualified for the job because we are talking about elite players. I can’t be any more qualified. I’ve got the same qualifications as all the Premier League, La Liga and Bundesliga managers — I’ve got the top qualification.” Just don’t mention the brotherly gig at Valencia, eh? It is true there aren’t too many obvious candidates piling up behind. The nation was with him up to that World Cup semi-final in France against the States last summer. Even with that daft fringe.
Sometimes, he still comes across as the excitable media pundit, sitting on Match of the Day 2 like a coiled spring, egged on by a pally Mark Chapman.
At the moment, Neville needs to up his performance behind the clapperboard. Otherwise when football comes home at the 2021 Euros, he might not make the cut.