Just Say No To Phil Neville

Having been exposed to his inanity on Match of the Day, I’d say that as a general statement, but on this particular occasion, I mean “Just Say No To Phil Neville as England Manager”.

My objection to Phil Neville being England manager has nothing to do with his tweets. Admittedly, you’d think that, given that the last England Women’s manager was sacked for improprieties*, the FA would try to make sure the next one was squeaky clean but I can live with an idiot as manager.

What I object to is his complete lack of coaching experience.

A summary of Phil Neville’s coaching experience:

1 game, assistant coach, England U21s.
3 games, assistant coach, England U21s at the 2013 Euros. At the 2013 Euros, England finished bottom of a group containing Italy, Norway and Israel, scoring only 1 goal.
~ 18 games, assistant manager at Valencia. During this period, Valencia had their lowest win percentage ever.

You’ll notice the complete absence of head coach/manager experience.

In many way, the question to ask is not “is he the right choice for the England Women’s team?” but “is he the right choice for any England job?”

Would the people saying he’s fine for the Women’s job be okay with him managing the Men’s team? Probably not. Same for the U21s and possibly the U19s. At best, he’s acceptable for the male U17s and maybe U19s.

So, for some unknown reason, the FA have decided that the Women’s team can have a manager that they’d never appoint to most of the other national jobs.

The FA’s defence is that everyone else they’ve asked has turned them down. The BBC article I’ve linked mentions 3 other people.

Lets give the FA the benefit of the doubt. Lets presume they asked every manager in the two Women’s divisions in England, and all the managers of Women’s teams in Europe and North America who might be available before asking Phil Neville. What does it say about the situation that no one with experience wanted the role?

I doubt it’s because it’s a job in Women’s football. There are already female managers, and male managers of women’s football teams (and also a few managers that used to coach men’s teams that have switched).

I doubt it’s the players. They don’t seem to be bad, you know, 3rd at the last World Cup, semi-finals at the last Euros, haven’t lost horribly to Iceland. The Men’s team wishes it did that well.

So what is it?

Could it be that no one involved in Women’s football wants the England job because they know that they’re always going to be an afterthought and that the manager is going to be in an invidious position where, if they win stuff, it’s “only women’s football” and if they lose, it’s “why are we giving them money”?

The Lionesses are doing well despite the FA, and with another World Cup coming up, I worry that this choice of manager is going to derail the chances of them winning it.


* the FA were very unclear as to precisely what kind of “inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour” Mark Sampson committed at Bristol Academy, so I have just gone with impropriety.

FIFA World Cup 2018 Draw

As I am prone to doing, I’ve done a redraw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup based purely on the rankings. The rankings used are FIFA’s October ones, as that was the latest available ranking when the draw itself took place.

The result of the real draw can be seen here.

Group A Group B Group C Group D Group E Group F Group G Group H
Germany Brazil Portugal Argentina Belgium Poland Switzerland France
Denmark Croatia Uruguay England Mexico Peru Spain Colombia
Costa Rica Iceland Sweden Tunisia Egypt Senegal Iran Serbia
Saudi Arabia South Korea Panama Russia Japan Australia Morocco Nigeria

I abided by the FIFA rules that each team could have no more than 1 team from each Confederation (or no more than 2 from UEFA). To comply with this I had to swap Iceland and Costa Rica to stop there being too many UEFA teams in Group A and I had to move Australia and Japan along one to prevent there being two Asian Football Association teams in group G. (Yes, Australia is in the Asian Football Confederation, not the Oceania one.)

Panama, South Korea and Saudi Arabia have all been moved up one, again to prevent there being too many UEFA teams in group A. I had to move that many because if I’d just swapped Saudi Arabia, there’d be too many UEFA teams in B, and if just Saudi Arabia and South Korea then there would have been too many in Group C. Mostly this shows how many more European teams are put in the World Cup draw.

Groups A, D and H have 1 out of 4 of the same teams as the random draw, while groups B, C, E, F and G are completely different. I suspect Portugal and Spain might prefer mine, while in my draw, groups B and H are a bit group of deathy.

FIFA, however, also have a tradition whereby the host country is always the first team in group A (so that they get to have the opening match). If I apply this rule to a draw from the rankings, you get these pools.

Group A Group B Group C Group D Group E Group F Group G Group H
Russia Germany Brazil Portugal Argentina Belgium Poland Switzerland
Croatia Uruguay England Peru Mexico Spain Colombia France
Costa Rica Denmark Iceland Sweden Tunisia Egypt Senegal Iran
Saudi Arabia South Korea Panama Morocco Japan Australia Serbia Nigeria

For version 2 I had to swap Peru and Mexico to stop there being two South American teams in group E, Denmark and Costa Rica to stop there being too many European teams in group A and Serbia and Nigeria to stop there being too many European teams in group H. Finally, I also had to swap Japan and Morocco to prevent there being two African teams in group E.

Group A now has 2/4 teams the same as the real drawn while the remaining groups are completely different. I suspect England are glad this wasn’t the real draw, as they would face the mighty Iceland (and some team called Brazil), and groups E and F look tasty.

There was a big to-do-age about how easy Russia’s real draw was, but I think it’s more of an artefact of putting the hosts in Group A. Because Russia’s ranking is lower than everyone else’s, there were always going to be two weak teams in A, and, because Russia are in UEFA, the weak team weren’t going to be the weakest of the European teams, who might, or might not, be better than Saudi Arabia, who they did get.

And, even with this allegedly suspiciously easy group (I am deeply, deeply dubious of the stats, factoids and logic used to define group A as an easy group, from a Russian perspective), Russia still aren’t going to qualify.

I know this, you know this, they know this. The terribleness of the Russian national football team is known factor.

It is inexplicable.

I have no idea if it’s because the shape of the Russian football season is so different to others, or if it’s that the huge amounts of money floating about the Russian league have lead to a lack of players for the national team, or if my curse on Fabio Capello had some unfortunate knock-on effects. Maybe all the really athletically ept Russians do other sports. Whatever the cause, there is something rotten with Russian football and they haven’t been able to fix it before this World Cup. That means that the atmosphere for the later stages might be lacking. That FIFA know this, and might try to fix it, might be why people were suspicious of the draw, although I think it was within the bounds of probable draws due to Russia being picked first.