England women's football: Olympics talk banned at SheBelieves Cup - Phil Neville

By Emma SandersBBC Sport
England have to go and win the SheBelieves Cup again - Neville

England manager Phil Neville says the SheBelieves Cup will not be an audition for his players before the Olympics and that talk of Tokyo 2020 has been banned in the camp.

The Lionesses aim to defend their SheBelieves title in the USA in March.

Neville will lead a Team GB squad - including players from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - in the Olympics.

"I have stopped all of my staff talking about the Olympics," he said.

"I will also stop my players.

"This is an England camp, we've got another England camp in April and we are focusing on it being only an England camp.

"The work being done for the Olympics is being done outside of these camps. It can't impact on the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland players so it would be unfair for me to go to the SheBelieves and talk about the Olympics."

In a repeat of the World Cup semi-final, England kick-start the defence of their title against the USA in Orlando on 5 March.

They face Olympic hosts Japan on 8 March in New Jersey, before taking on Spain in Frisco on 11 March.

Neville has named a youthful England squad, including eight players under the age of 23.

"We are here to play for the Lionesses. When June/July comes we'll start talking about the Olympics. There is a lot of work being done by all of my staff in terms of scouting, preparing, speaking to players on the lists... but this is an England game," Neville added.

"If you start getting side-tracked by other things going on in the background - as we saw with the first six months of the season - you get found out and we can't afford that to happen.

"We can't go to the SheBelieves and start talking about development for the Olympics when there are 10, 15, 20 players that can go to the Olympics who are not even there."

'We need to take a reality check' - Neville

Since the World Cup last summer, the women's game has seen growth in attendances, participation and TV coverage but Neville says "everyone is still trying to catch up".

In November, 77,000 fans watched England's defeat by Germany at Wembley, five months after a record 11.7m tuned into BBC coverage of their World Cup semi-final loss to the USA.

Going into the SheBelieves Cup, Neville accepts there will be more scrutiny and expectation on his players but it is something they "wanted more than ever".

"I think we see that in a lot of things, the whole game has gone like this [upwards] and everyone is still trying to catch up to that level," said Neville.

"I think sometimes we need to take a reality check to say let's accept maybe we are not where we want to be in every facet. I think the expectation coming back from the World Cup was massive and it probably surprised everybody and that takes education, experience, learning.

"What we have tried to do with the team is put as much protection and education blankets around them to make sure they are able to handle the things we have thrown at them, or people have thrown at them.

"We talk about dealing with pressure, expectation, criticism - this is new to my players."

Neville also said facilities at clubs in the Women's Super League - the top-tier of domestic football in England - "need to keep improving" to keep up with the growth of the game.

This season, three games have been postponed in the WSL solely because of issues concerning pitches, while a further four matches were called off this month following the impact of Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis in the UK.

"Every club in the WSL realises that improvement needs to keep happening but that is the reality check to where everyone probably thinks we are, to actually where we are," said Neville.

"We just need to constantly keep striving, constantly reinvesting into the women's game. We've all been caught by surprise by the unbelievable growth."

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