Time is running out to build form and momentum but the FA have little choice than to stick with under-fire England manager Phil Neville.
Since touching down empty-handed in the UK on Thursday, there have been calls for Neville to be sacked. The Lionesses failed in their attempts to retain the SheBelieves Cup trophy and returned home with just three points from three games after losing to the USA and Spain and narrowly beating Japan.
That’s now seven defeats in the last 11 games for the Lionesses and worryingly, five of those defeats have come against lower-ranked opposition. Even by his own admission, Neville’s record leaves a lot to be desired.
The FA will hold a de-brief meeting with Neville on Tuesday – but that’s standard practice after any international competition. As senior FA decision makers confirmed during the 12-day trip to the USA, they have absolutely no intention of pulling the plug and fully intend the 43-year-old to see out the remaining 15 months of his contract. Unless they are blissfully unaware of his incoming resignation letter this week, Neville will remain in charge for the foreseeable future. He does, after all, genuinely have full support of the dressing room – and that is worth its weight in gold to a football manager in this day and age.
Even if the FA decided to ring in the changes this week, there would be little time for a new manager to turn around England’s fortunes before UEFA Euro 2021 – coronovirus permitting – given the side are without any competitive international fixtures until then.
The Lionesses will return to St George’s Park for a training camp in April and are likely to play a friendly, or possibly two, in September, but that doesn’t leave much opportunity for an incoming manager to implement their own ways. While it doesn’t leave long for Neville to fix his side’s defensive frailties either, carrying on seems like a smarter option than starting over.
The former Manchester United and Everton defender, who has vowed to walk before he is pushed, is also probably benefiting from the fact there are few candidates who could realistically take his place.
After the 1-0 defeat to Spain in the Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas on Wednesday, Nikita Parris brutally conceded that some of the players are “still living off the hype of the World Cup” and that Neville has defended his poorly performing squad for ‘too long’. She is absolutely right.
As part of England’s rebuild Neville must be prepared to make some big calls in terms of his team selection – and even the captain shouldn’t be exempt from that. Some of the Lionesses have failed to replicate the form at international level that earned them a call up in the first place and it appears reputation over form has crept into Neville’s thought process. All too frequently England’s defence is carved open – and with 10 of the last 18 goals conceded coming from either set-pieces or crosses, questions must even be asked about those players who are all-but guaranteed selection regardless of their performance.
England don’t look in great shape to win a European Championships next year, with Spain, France, Sweden and the Netherlands all likely to be tipped as favourites ahead of the home nation. But if, as we suspect, Neville is given time and is brave enough to continue to push young players through and drop those senior figures who fall short of the mark, the Lionesses might go some way to restoring their reputation.
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