Phil Neville vows to select Team GB squad on merit rather than stack side full of Lionesses at Tokyo Olympics
- Phil Neville has challenged players from home nations to behave like Olympians
- He insists every player will have the chance to impress him and get in the team
- He recalls watching Daley Thompson, Denis Lewis and Jessica Ennis
- Neville is delighted with the way women’s football is impacting older generation
Phil Neville has vowed not to fill Team GB full of Lionesses – and select his squad on merit.
The England coach will take the women’s football team to the Olympics in Tokyo next year and some believe he may select the players he knows best from his homeland.
However, Neville is having none of that. ‘I’m an English coach and people think ‘you’re just going to pick English players’,’ he explained.
Phil Neville insists everyone in the home nations will have the chance to get in his side on merit
‘No. I’ve challenged my English players, and the Northern Irish, Wales and Scottish players I’ve met. To get in this Olympic squad, you’ve got to live and behave like an Olympian.’
Neville is under no illusions about the impact his team may have on the public. ‘When I was young it was Daley Thompson, the super human effort, collapsing to the floor at the finish line,’ he said.
‘Then you think of great memories of Zola Budd versus Mary Decker. Denise Lewis, Jess Ennis. When you think about great sporting moments it’s often the Olympics – that shows you what role it plays in society.’
Neville, speaking a the Fifa Football Conference in Milan, added that he had already sought the assistance of perhaps the greatest Olympics coach of them all – rowing counterpart Jurgen Grobler, a man who has been to 10 games and whose boats have only failed to pick up gold once, on his first trip in 1972.
‘I’ve had a day Jurgen Grobler down at the rowing,’ Neville said. ‘The biggest thing that I learned, particularly from the rowers, was to get in an Olympic rowing squad there’s a certain level of performance, times, professionalism, that they need to obtain.
The England coach wants all the players available to started behaving like Olympians
‘That’s one thing I’m looking at this year… To be an Olympian for GB you’ve got to reach certain levels of performance consistently. That’s the biggest thing I’ve taken from meeting these great Olympian coaches. It’s not just a given.’
The women’s game in England is subject to increased interest following the popularity of the World Cup with big crowds attending matches at both Stamford Bridge and the Etihad Stadium. And Neville feels the opportunity cannot be squandered.
‘It’s what we wanted… big crowds, sponsorship, visibility… now we’ve got it, we’ve got to embrace it,’ he explained. ‘We’ve got to take it forward and we can’t be scared of it.
Neville is delighted that the Lionesses inspired the older generation in particular
‘The biggest thing that the team have learnt is that we haven’t inspired the next generation, we’ve inspired the old generation. The older generation are the ones that have been affected. The younger generation always come. It’s a World Cup, they jump on board.
‘An old man that said to me outside Costa Coffee ‘do you know what – I didn’t watch women’s football before. Now I bloody love it’.
We got 80,000 at Wembley because it’s not just the kids showing up now. It’s the kids, the dads and the granddads. That’s what makes it exciting.’