One of the more unexpected aspects of Phil Neville’s management of England women has been his emotional connection with his players. He may have spent his career in the very male environment of a football dressing room but growing up close to twin sister Tracey has helped him swiftly adapt to a differently gendered milieu.
Carly Telford described Neville as a ‘father figure’ after her belated, poignant World Cup debut. Telford first played for England in 2007 and is at her third finals, but had not played a minute prior to Friday’s win over Argentina in La Havre.
Her bow followed a difficult season with her mother passing away through cancer in July. Neville made reference to both Yvonne Telford and Fran Kirby’s late mother, Denise, whose birthday it would have been, in the post-match huddle leading to tears and hugs. The goalkeeper said: “At the end he said [to them], ‘I don’t want to say this, but I know your mum would be watching and I know your mum would be watching’.
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“All of the girls were trying to keep it together. Phil is a fantastic guy. He is like a dad figure. He lost his dad not that long ago. It’s hard for him because he would want his dad to see him as an England manager and see how proud he is of him.” Neville Neville was a familiar figure on away trips when Phil and brother Gary were playing. He passed away in Australia in 2015 while following Tracey England netball team.
Telford added: “I said [to Phil] they will all be sat upstairs together having a beer, my mum would probably be sat with her head behind a pillow, but the three of them upstairs will be sat watching us, looking over us and wishing us well.”
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Telford and Karen Bardsley have now started a match each and neither knows who will play against Japan on Wednesday. Former US goalkeeper Hope Solo, a 2015 World Cup winner and now a BBC pundit, has criticised Neville’s rotation policy but Telford said: “Phil knows what he is doing. He has rotated since he came in, that’s just how he works. At the same time he trusts his whole team. There’s not one point you think you’re going out there not prepared because we’ve all had time, we’ve all had minutes. We know he believes in us which makes you feel an extra foot taller.”