David Beckham’s hiring of Phil Neville at Inter Miami is transparent
It’s hard to say if Phil Neville is the right manager for Inter Miami.
Maybe it is. Foreign managers have had problems in Major League Soccer in the past, not because football is so different here, but because the conditions are like that. The travel, the time zones, the varied climates, the one-sided rosters, and the inability to throw money on problems in your cadre conspire to make it a tough job. But many outsiders have made it, usually the ones who took the effort to learn the league’s many eccentricities. When Tata Martino interviewed for the job at Atlanta United ahead of the inaugural season, he brought a large folder that contained his entire league exam. Martino won the MLS Cup in his sophomore year.
But now comes Neville, his appointment announced the same day Chris Henderson was appointed as the club’s new Sporting Director. The simultaneous shots are their contrast. Henderson is widely recognized as the architect of the Seattle Sounders’ enduring success, having collected seven major silverware, including two MLS Cups, in his 11 years there.
And then there is Neville, the long-time Manchester United and Everton player with a 59 international career in England. Phil, the smaller of the Neville twins, forever in the shadow of ex-United star Gary. Neville, who was given special arrangements to coach the English U21 squad for a game despite not having the required license. Neville, who despite his lack of coaching experience got interviews for the UK U20 and Everton jobs. Neville, who was named United’s first-team manager by former manager David Moyes. Neville, who briefly ran the Salford City club he shared with his former United colleagues. Neville who was brought to Valencia as a coach by a wealthy owner who loved his name and worked there under his brother. Neville, who was in charge of England’s women’s national team even though he had never worked as a manager – he hadn’t even interviewed for the job, but the football association thought it would bring glamor and credibility.
Neville, who has now been named the second manager of the club founded by and owned by longtime teammate and friend David Beckham.
Phil Neville embodies the Old Boys Club of football. Since the business of leading soccer teams is becoming more and more efficient – coaches like Julian Nagelsmann from RB Leipzig, who had no professional career worth mentioning, more often only take on big jobs because of the results – Neville is an anachronism, a last spasm of the old ways.
That doesn’t mean he’s not suitable for the job. Nor does that mean that it will not succeed.
It just means that his qualifications are in doubt. That they seem to consist mainly of one big name and a friendly relationship with other big names. In his only leadership role with the English women, Neville led the talented lionesses to a narrow semi-final of the Women’s World Cup against the USA. Then he seemed to lose interest when his team’s results wear off and announced in April 2020 that he would be leaving the job if his contract expired more than a year later, in July 2021. It didn’t take that long.
Neville is also a stark contrast to his predecessor, Diego Alonso, the Uruguayan who held his seventh leadership position and had an impressive résumé with Pachuca and Monterrey in Mexico. Alonso was dropped from Inter after the chaotic first season, split between the MLS is Back Tournament and a challenging regular season. Despite being armed with multiple veteran stars in Gonzalo Higuain, Blaise Matuidi and Rodolfo Pizarro, Alonso obviously disappointed the possession despite making the playoffs in the team’s first season.
Maybe Neville will do better. However, it’s hard to believe that he, a checked-out manager of the women’s national team with mixed results, was the best man or woman that could be found for the job. Hard to imagine that he had a vision that dazzled the front office and led them to overlook his apparent lack of relevant experience. It’s hard to fathom why Miami was so overwhelmed by Neville’s insight into the league that it immediately gave up pursuing other candidates.
Next season there will be more MLS managers with high profile careers, such as Thierry Henry from Montreal and Gabriel Heinze from Atlanta. And he won’t be the only head coach without significant experience running men’s clubs – neither has Josh Wolff of Austin FC.
But he will be the only manager with no logical path into this job, the only man in his job without a clear reason to be there. Except his name and connections.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a columnist at Emox News and a lecturer in sports communications at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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