Tuesday 22 January 2019

Repentant England Women head coach Phil Neville claims 'battered the wife' comment was reference to table tennis

Phil Neville
Phil Neville

John Percy

Phil Neville has launched an impassioned defence of his appointment as England Women head coach and revealed that the controversial tweet he posted about “battering” his wife was a reference to a table tennis match they had played.

Neville was officially presented at St George’s Park on Monday in an emotional press conference, with the 41-year-old detailing the lengthy process which led to him landing a job in charge of the third best team in women’s football.

But it was events from nearly seven years ago, in which he appeared to make light of domestic abuse in a post on his personal Twitter account, which dominated much of Neville’s unveiling at the national centre.

Apart from joking in 2011 that he had “just battered the wife”, he also later suggested that women would be too “busy making breakfast/getting kids ready” to read his messages, while other contentious posts re-emerged before he deleted his account.

But he has insisted the posts had been misinterpreted and that he has huge respect for the women’s game. “When the Football Association announced my appointment last Tuesday, it was probably one of the best moments of my career,” he said. “Obviously subsequently, the last few days after that, it was very disappointing.

“But I always look at myself in the mirror. It is nobody else’s fault that those words were used in 2011-12.

“Domestic violence is a serious topic. In isolation it looks bad. It wasn’t related to domestic violence, it was related, and I’ve no evidence to back it up and that is why I didn’t come out and say it, to a competition between me and my wife on a table tennis table. But the words were terrible so I apologise.

“I don’t think those tweets are a reflection of me, my character and my beliefs, the way I was brought up.

“I know my father is not with me now, but I know full well that is not the way he would want me to write, behave, act.

“I think it has been one of the traits of my life – I have always been honest with myself, first and foremost, so you have got to take the criticism that comes your way when you do things like that.”

Neville has escaped punishment for the tweets but the storm comes at a difficult time for the FA, after his predecessor Mark Sampson was dismissed last September for conduct deemed inappropriate.

Baroness Sue Campbell, the head of the women’s game, admitted that contenders pulled out of the running because of concerns about the prospect of scrutiny into their families.

Neville, the former England, Manchester United and Everton defender, has taken only two games as caretaker manager at Valencia and one in charge of non-league club Salford City, but insists he has the credentials for the job and coped with a gruelling selection process.

“It was a three-week interview process,” he said. “I had to do a seven-hour presentation to the FA board on my vision, on my experiences, on what I was going to do with the team, with grass roots football, with female coaches, and obviously they assessed me on my technical and tactical knowledge which was another three hours.

“Then there were psychometric tests, there were background checks. Sue Campbell didn’t just come in a room and said ‘ here you are, you’ve the keys to the castle.’ It was a thorough interview process after she approached me.

“I can’t be more qualified than I am. I’ve got the same qualifications as all the Premier League managers, all the La Liga managers, all the Bundesliga managers. I’ve got the top qualification that you can achieve.

“These [England] players are some of the best in the world and I have experienced of some of the best in the world.

“When she [Campbell] first broached the subject [of being manager] it took me back to my playing days when I got that call off Terry Venables and he said you’re picked for England. Playing for England is the ultimate. Managing England is the ultimate.

“And when I took my B licence, A licence and Pro licence, I wasn’t told that I wasn’t allowed to work in the women’s’ game. It was a licence to work in football and this, for me, is a fantastic opportunity.

“I’ve seen some people saying ‘it’s a stepping stone.’ Well, I’ve never used the words ‘stepping stone’. For me, anything other than this job would be a step down.”

There was an awkward moment for Neville when he took more than 20 seconds to answer a question on the identity of the leading scorer in the Women’s Super League. But it was largely an impressive, passionate performance from the former defender. “I’ve got a car parking space out there [St George’s Park],” he said. “The car parking space is next to Gareth Southgate’s, so ultimately I’ve got the next best job.

“Finishing third at the World Cup won’t be good enough for me, won’t be good enough for Sue [Campbell] and won’t be good enough for the players.”

Neville, meanwhile, has revealed he will be pushing United to become involved in the Women’s Super League, insisting they should be “leaders and pioneers”. United are the only Premier League club without a team.

United have maintained in the past that they prefer to focus all resources on ensuring that the first team is successful and have frequently rejected calls for the club to start up in the women’s game.

But Neville said: “I will be encouraging them. I am sure they are in the process of doing it.”

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