Phil Neville has emerged as a leading candidate for the England Head Coach job after it was revealed he is believed to be on the FA’s wishlist.

Neville, who has no background in the women’s game, has become a front runner to succeed Mark Sampson after several candidates from the women’s game ruled themselves out of the race.

Utah Royals Coach Laura Harvey, Manchester City’s Nick Cushing, and new Canada MNT Head Coach John Herdman were all understood to be on a shortlist of three drawn up by the FA at the end of November. It is believed all three conducted phone interviews, but with a two-week gap between those calls and face-to-face interviews, Harvey was offered the role in Utah, while Cushing signed a new contract with City.

That left Herdman, who has gone on record in Canadian media stating he was offered a role at a prominent national team but has appeared to have used that offer as leverage to take charge of Canada, ranked 94th in the world in the men’s game.

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This left the FA essentially having to reassess their options, which has led to them turning to ex-England international Neville.

The former Manchester United and Everton man has only taken charge of one match in his coaching career – a 2-1 win for the club he owns, Salford City (who play in the sixth tier of England) – but also assisted brother Gary during his ill-fated spell as Head Coach of La Liga side Valencia in Spain. 

Women’s Soccer Zone was told by sources last week that Neville’s name was in the frame, and Chelsea’s Claire Rafferty told BBC Radio 5Live on Thursday morning that Neville was ‘rumoured’ to be on the FA’s list of candidates.

While the potential appointment of Neville would be a surprise, he does fulfil much of the criteria the FA are looking for. He holds a UEFA Pro Licence, which previous coach Sampson did not have when he was appointed – although he did complete the qualification during his tenure, ironically on the same course as Neville. And with no background in the women’s game, it ensures the FA’s safeguarding concerns that led to Sampson’s dismissal are unlikely to arise.

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It is worth noting too that Neville’s sister Tracey is Head Coach of the England Netball Team – a useful reference point in understanding the pros, cons, challenges and positives of coaching a women’s team. 

Former England international Pauline Cope-Boanas spoke to Women’s Soccer Zone about the potential of appointing Neville, and it wasn’t something she was in favour of.

She said: “No disrespect to Phil Neville, but has he ever coached a women’s team or been involved with a women’s team? I’m not on about a one or two day training camp, I’m on about managing/coaching a women’s team long term?

“If they (the FA) give it to Phil Neville, it’s because he’s Phil Neville. Keith Boanas is someone they should talk to and that’s not because he’s my husband, but because he ticks all the boxes.”

There, of course, is yet to be any official announcement from the Football Association on the appointment of the next Lionesses Head Coach, but luring a name like Neville over from the men’s game would bring a lot of attention to the team and experience of having been at the very top of the men’s game. A fresh pair of eyes and perspective might also benefit the Lionesses, with Neville having a blank piece of paper to work from from the off.

Although a long shot, could a former Manchester United defender taking on the Head Coach’s role of the national team add weight (and pressure) to his former club finally operating a professional women’s team.

There is also no getting away from the fact that for the former Everton captain, the strong possibility of coaching at a World Cup next year is sure to be an attractive proposition.

England have a training match against the Netherlands in La Manga on January 23 before jetting off to the United States for the SheBelieves Cup at the start of March.