London (AFP) – Phil Neville has been appointed head coach of the England women’s team until the end of the 2021 UEFA Women’s Championships, the governing Football Association announced Tuesday.
The 41-year-old former Manchester United, Everton and England defender succeeds Mark Sampson, who was sacked in September over allegations of misconduct in a previous role and amid a racism row that led to widespread criticism of senior FA figures.
“I am honoured to be given the chance to lead England. With the new coaching team we are putting in place, we can help the players build on their great progress in recent years,” Neville said.
England hope to stage the 2021 European Championships, with Neville taking over a team that reached the last four of the 2017 Euros and which is now third in the world rankings, behind only women’s football superpowers the United States and Germany.
His appointment is sure to raise question marks about the FA’s appointment procedure given he has never previously worked in the women’s game.
However, he insisted: “This squad is on the verge of something special and I believe I can lead them to the next level.
“There is no greater honour than representing your country and it will be a privilege to do it again.”
Neville, who holds the UEFA Pro Licence, has worked as a coach at United and with the England Under-21 side since retiring as a player.
He also had some involvement at Valencia while his brother Gary, also a former United and England player, was briefly in charge of the Spanish side from 2015-2016.
Sports coaching is very much a family affair, with the Neville brothers’ sister, Tracey Neville, the head coach of the England netball team.
Neville’s first assignment in his new job will be the SheBelieves Cup tournament in the United States in March, when England play France, Germany and the hosts.
But all eyes will be on next year’s women’s World Cup in France, with England, whose next qualifying game sees them play Wales in Southampton on April 6, looking to improve on their third place at the 2015 edition.
That result was also achieved under Sampson but the Welshman’s reign ended in controversy after he was accused of racism by England striker Eni Aluko, although it was “inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour” in a previous role with Bristol Academy that eventually led the FA to sack him.
England Under-19 women’s coach Mo Marley took over as caretaker boss of the senior side and led the team to a 1-0 friendly defeat by France in October before overseeing World Cup qualifying wins over Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kazakhstan.
There had been speculation that England would opt for a female coach following Sampson’s exit, but attentions turned to Neville, well-regarded by FA chiefs, once leading candidate and Chelsea Ladies manager Emma Hayes ruled herself out of the running.
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