Phil Neville exit: What now for England and Team GB after period of 'limbo'?

By Alistair MagowanBBC Sport
Phil Neville and Lucy Bronze
Phil Neville challenged Lucy Bronze to become the best player in the world

It has taken almost nine months for Phil Neville to leave his role as England women's manager after first announcing he would step down.

For the 43-year-old, it's a chance to team up with old friend David Beckham at MLS side Inter Miami.

For England, it means they can emerge from their "limbo" over the past year, according to former Lionesses goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis, having put Norwegian great Hege Riise in temporary charge before Netherlands coach Sarina Wiegman takes over in September.

The only remaining issue is the Tokyo Olympics, which is set to start in August. The Football Association is no nearer to appointing anyone as manager of Team GB.

But after a difficult transition period, could the clouds which have surrounded the England team finally begin to disappear?

Neville lays groundwork for Wiegman

Much has been made of Neville's legacy already given he signalled his intentions last April, but according to Brown-Finnis, his true value might not be realised until Wiegman takes over.

When Neville was appointed in January 2018, the FA hoped he would take England to the top of the mountain, but he could not better the bronze medal they won in 2015 and take them into a first Women's World Cup final.

However, some believe he has laid good foundations.

He has shown his players what a "winning mentality" looks like and improved conditions within the set-up.

He's asked for first-class travel to games, taught them coping strategies, and set higher targets for them. After telling Lucy Bronze that she should become the best player in the world, she reached that goal in last month's Fifa Best Awards.

Where he lacked, however, was in his experience as a manager, something that Wiegman can provide having won the European Championship with the Netherlands in 2017.

"Phil wanted players to be top-notch every day, I know he's drilled that into them," Brown-Finnis told BBC Sport. "Those levels will not drop, and Wiegman can now bring a team confidence that will add to what they have learnt under Neville."

Former Norway midfielder Hege Riise
Former Norway midfielder Riise won the World Cup, Olympics and European Championship as a player

Riise provides refresh after difficult departure

While Neville has improved many aspects of the Lionesses' operation, his departure has been drawn out and hard to manage behind the scenes.

He had been due to take charge of England in this year's home European Championship, but when the tournament was delayed until 2022, he told the FA he did not want to extend his contract further.

And although in November he was set to be announced as the head coach of the Great Britain women's team for the delayed 2021 Tokyo Olympics, that process then became clouded once the FA realised he was exploring options elsewhere.

With Neville now heading to the United States, the FA was saved by the fact they interviewed candidates to be Neville's assistant following the departure of Rehanne Skinner to Tottenham in November.

About 47 candidates applied for the role, and the two outstanding ones were former Norway midfielder Riise, who won the World Cup, Olympics and European Championship as a player, plus former Canadian international turned coach, Rhian Wilkinson.

Once Neville's Miami move was confirmed, the FA decided to appoint Riise and Wilkinson for England's upcoming February training camp, with former LSK Kvinner manager Riise - world player of the year in 1995 - leading the group.

If all goes well and the players warm to the pair, who are contracted until August, they could be in charge for upcoming camps in April and June. That also applies to the Team GB job, if, of course the Olympics go ahead.

But given the Lionesses have not played a game since the SheBelieves Cup last March because of the coronavirus pandemic, and there are no games currently scheduled to take place, Brown-Finnis thinks Riise's appointment provides an important "shake-up".

"Training camps, through the nature of having no competitive games, have been pretty stale over the last 12 months," she says. "So this move is best for all parties.

"It also allows the FA to re-assess options. We've never had a European manager before. A completely different way of running meetings and training will be refreshing for the players and that's what they need."

Is Riise a frontrunner for Team GB?

The FA will not rush into an appointment for the Tokyo Olympics but Riise and Wilkinson will be able to make an impression with the players and the FA which may put them ahead of their potential rivals for that role.

Riise was nominated for Fifa's Best coach of the year award after winning six successive titles with LSK Kvinner.

Also nominated for that award, won by Wiegman, was Chelsea's manager Emma Hayes. She and Manchester United boss Casey Stoney have been heavily supported to take the Team GB role, although neither have yet made their predicted interest public.

Both Shelley Kerr and Jayne Ludlow could also be in the running, having respectively left the Scotland and Wales jobs in the past month.

There are some concerns within the FA that appointing a Women's Super League manager to a temporary role for the Olympics could cause problems, as they would have access to the performance data of players from rival clubs.

And Brown-Finnis thinks club commitments might be an issue for Hayes and Stoney, as they might not want to take four weeks out of pre-season with their clubs.

"The Olympics are special, but the landscape in women's football is different now," said Brown-Finnis.

"Both Casey and Emma are on fully professional contracts and it would be a long time out of their club environments.

"So if this combination of Riise and Wilkinson works, there doesn't seem any logical reason to disrupt that further.

"The England team will provide the majority of the Team GB squad, and alongside other players from the home nations, the pair could provide an uplift to the team and catch Team GB at a confident moment."

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