Phil Neville: Lionesses’ need for competitive football is greater than ever

Phil Neville can take positives from England’s recent get-togethers but has emphasised the need to get back to playing international fixtures.

The Lionesses have not faced rival opposition since March’s SheBelieves Cup campaign, with friendlies scheduled for October against Germany and next week against Norway both being cancelled for coronavirus-related reasons.

The times England have met up, starting with a training camp in September, have featured a number of 11v11 intra-squad matches, the latest of which took place at Stoke’s bet365 Stadium on Friday.

Boss Neville said after the match: “We’ve tried to be really positive and say we’re lucky really to still have camps and be able to come to a stadium like this.

“Because I think ultimately it has been frustrating. I think the players are crying out for competitive games where they can go out and test themselves against the best, and that’s what I really want.

“We’ve got February and April where hopefully we have some exciting plans where we can play some real top-class opposition (England decided during the summer not to enter next year’s SheBelieves Cup).

“We haven’t had that for the last three camps. I suppose we could have played maybe tier three, tier two opposition, but I think playing against each other has provided better solutions for us.

“We’ve been able to accelerate some of the younger players into this environment and we’ve seen a lot which we wouldn’t have done if we’d had loads of fixtures where the momentum of the result probably overshadows the need to develop.

“I suppose March, when we first introduced seven younger players, to now, there’s probably 14 in there. I am even more convinced now that these younger players, the majority are up to the level, ready to play.

“I think it has just confirmed in these last three camps where we are at and my feelings about where we need to go to, so I suppose that is a massive positive.”

He added: “I think the need now is for competitive fixtures. Ultimately now, the need for competitive fixtures, I think, is greater than ever.

England have not played an international since concluding March's SheBelieves Cup campaign with a 1-0 loss to Spain (Bradley Collyer/PA).
England have not played an international since concluding March's SheBelieves Cup campaign with a 1-0 loss to Spain (Bradley Collyer/PA).

“We talk about cap accumulation, about experiences. We have probably missed two or three opportunities since (the first national) lockdown, so we need to make up for that after Christmas.”

Neville is set to leave his role next July at the conclusion of his contract, with Holland boss Sarina Wiegman starting work as his successor from next September.

Two months ago he said it remained a “massive ambition” of his to manage a Great Britain team at next summer’s delayed Tokyo Olympics.

When asked on Friday for an update on the situation, he said: “I don’t know if it’s going to be me.

“I said in the last camp I expected the decision to be imminent, and I still think that. So we just have to wait, the players are just going to have to wait, and hopefully it will happen soon and they can concentrate on who’s the GB boss and there can be total clarity.”

Neville is to be succeeded by Sarina Wiegman next year (Richard Sellers/PA).
Neville is to be succeeded by Sarina Wiegman next year (Richard Sellers/PA).

Regarding the lack of recent match results, Neville said: “It is difficult when I go and see Sue (Campbell, the Football Association’s director of women’s football) and do my reviews.

“‘We’ve won the last three, we’ve won three out of the last four’ – we can’t say that. As a manager you want to be judged on your results.

“So I think we will not be able to judge what these three camps have given us until we get to February, April, June.

“It’s a little bit frustrating, but I think we’ve done great work. Getting these younger players and this transitional period in there, looking at the more long term and how we are going to transition this group of players and squad into Sarina, I think we’ve done well.”

Friday’s match saw a team captained by Lucy Bonze beat one skippered by Steph Houghton 8-1, with Chelsea’s Beth England and Manchester United’s Ella Toone each scoring hat-tricks.