Phil Neville was not given the job. Phil Neville earned the job.
That was the message Inter Miami owners delivered on Friday when talking about Neville’s recent appointment as head coach.
For the first time in 63 days, Inter Miami answered questions publicly about the state of the organization on Friday afternoon. There was plenty to address, too, given the leadership makeover that has occurred in South Florida this offseason. Gone are head coach Diego Alonso and sporting director Paul McDonough, and in their respective places are now Phil Neville and Chris Henderson.
It is Neville, though, that comes with more questions given his lack of head coaching experience and close ties to Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham. Neville and Beckham are not only former teammates from their playing days, but also business partners and personal friends. That has fueled perception that Neville’s hiring is simply a case of cronyism, a friend doing another friend a favor, but Beckham and fellow investor Jorge Mas were adamant on Friday it is not.
“Of course, people are always going to turn around and say, ‘Oh, it is because he is your friend,'” said Beckham. “It has nothing to do with him being my friend. I am an owner of a club with Jorge. Our ownership group do not just employ our friends. We employ the best people, whether it is on the field, off the field, in our back room staff, the staff that we have working at our training facility, at the stadium.
“We are running a serious soccer club here.”
For David Beckham, the appointment of Phil Neville goes beyond just the head coach role- it's about creating a culture, a DNA, across all levels of the #InterMiamiCF organization. pic.twitter.com/hjT9S5x7E6
— Inter Miami CF (@InterMiamiCF) January 22, 2021
What convinced Beckham and Mas that Neville, who last coached England’s women’s national team, was “the right man for the job” then? Beckham stated it was Neville’s work ethic combined with the exposure the new Inter Miami manager has had to the sport at varying levels.
“Of course he has had a few experiences obviously in the men’s game and obviously more recently in the women’s national team, but Phil’s experience comes as a player,” said Beckham. “He has worked with some of the best managers around the game, he has worked with some of the best players, he has been around most of the best academy systems within the Premier League and within soccer in general.
“I think that experience is huge.”
The 44-year-old Neville — who has also served as an assistant coach at Valencia and Manchester United in his managerial career — also defended himself against the notion that he is not seasoned enough as a coach by pointing to his playing days.
“I think when people throw about the lack of experience, I always throw back that actually I have got a lot of experience,” said Neville. “A lot of experience of being around winners, a lot of experience about winning (not only) myself as a player, but actually coaching at the very top level in Spain with Valencia, Manchester United, and with the England (women’s) national team, getting to a World Cup semifinal.”
As for why Inter Miami made the decision to overhaul multiple leadership positions this offseason? The results during the Herons’ expansion campaign admittedly played a part, but Mas and Beckham both said it was more than just that, with Mas even pointing to player development as an issue.
“Last season and the decisions that we have made about bringing on board Chris Henderson and Phil Neville do not necessarily have to do with just wins and losses or the points that we accumulated in 2020,” said Mas. “For us, it goes beyond that. It goes to what happens in non-gamedays, it goes to building a culture here that goes into how do we make players better here. It goes from aspects of sports performance, medical, training, nutrition, education.
“So many factors and facets go into excelling on the field, and David and I felt … these moves were precipitated by the fact that we as owners aspire, we will not settle for mediocrity.”
Neville and Henderson will now help lead the charge into the 2021 season, with Henderson saying Friday that one of Inter Miami’s goals is to “compete for championships every year.” There is plenty of work to be done to get to that point, of course, but the Herons are convinced they have started down the right path with the hirings of their new leadership figures.
Regardless of the questions that persist because of Neville’s close ties to Beckham.
“The fact that he is David’s friend is a reality and no one runs from that. Actually, we embrace it” said Mas. “He was not given or handed the job because he was friends with David Beckham or solely because of his relationship with David Beckham. Phil Neville earned this job.
Added Beckham on Neville: “That is why he is in this position. Nothing to do with the relationship that we have, the friendship that we have, the loyalty that we have to each other. He is the right man for the job.”