Eyebrows were rightfully raised at the Football Association’s decision to hire someone with no previous managerial experience who didn’t even apply to manage the women’s national team, but to his credit Phil Neville did manage to escape much further criticism – for about five minutes, anyway. Tweets from 2011 and 2012 resurfaced quickly and gave the impression that he believed women would be too “busy making breakfast/getting kids ready” to read his messages. He later apologised for these Tweets and has reiterated his commitment to gender equality.
At best, these were ill-judged tweets from a bygone era where Twitter as a platform wasn’t taken overly seriously, or perhaps it was a bemusing attempt at humour – footballers haven’t ever given themselves a stellar reputation on social media – only in 2016, Joleon Lescott tweeted a picture of a Mercedes minutes after his Aston Villa side got thrashed 6-0 and he tried to pass it off as “accidental”, apparently being sent from his phone which was in his pocket while driving.
“doubts over his appointment transcend genuine ability”
But at worst, the tweets – whilst not radically offensive in themselves – are representative of a man who thinks everyday sexism is some kind of a joke, contributing to a culture of unspoken discriminatory culture. By this point, it’s starting to become easier and easier to question the decision to appoint him as manager, and his actual ability in the role hasn’t even been mentioned.
Yet where this case gets worse still is the fact that the FA knew about Neville’s tweets before making him manager. Not only is this incredibly naïve for the sport’s national governing body, it’s embarrassing for the English game as a whole.
“the inconsistencies are significant”
The inconsistencies emanating from the FA here are significant – in August 2016, then-Burnley striker Andre Gray was charged with misconduct over homophobic tweets dating back to 2012, and rightly so. Now, while Gray’s tweets were significantly more explicit, one could have hoped that the FA’s punishment of the forward would have set precedent to anyone involved in the elite tier of football: squeaky clean social media profiles or severe reprimand. Neville has, incredulously, escaped conventional punishment, though he has deleted his Twitter account and has issued apologies.
The nature of Neville’s tweets in relation to his new post feels, from the outside, like yet another kick in the face for the women’s game. After all, the previous manager, Mark Sampson, who is alleged to have made racist comments to star Eni Aluko, has been replaced by Phil Neville, who made sexist comments on Twitter.
It’s a massive shame, too. The women’s side has really come into the media spotlight in the last few years for all the right reasons. Stellar performances that saw them reach the semi-finals of the European Championships last year and finish third in the World Cup in 2015 had galvanised and inspired a nation. The Lionesses are clearly one of the best women’s teams in the world right now, and this continued mistreatment regarding coaches is bordering on outright disrespectful.
Finally, it’s almost impossible to imagine that there isn’t someone more qualified than Phil Neville to manage the Lionesses. Neville, whose only experience (outside of an admittedly illustrious playing career) is a coaching spell during an awful tenure at Valencia, where brother Gary had the top job, means he has little knowledge of the intricacies of the women’s game, and one can’t help but feel that managers currently plying their trade in the Women’s Super League – the top division for female football in the UK – might feel they’ve been unfairly overlooked in favour of a bigger name. It’s difficult to see the FA considering such a candidate for the equivalent post in the male game, and if the FA must tread with dexterity in the coming months or risk potentially irrevocable damage to the women’s game.
Unfortunately, while such incompetence has become the norm for the domestic body, it’s no longer surprising.