The former England Women’s goalkeeper, Rachel Brown-Finnis, has spoken of her excitement at the appointment of Philip Neville as the new manager of the Lionesses.
Burnley-born Brown-Finnis, who made 82 appearances for England during her 16-year career with the national side, said that the experience at the highest level of the game that Neville (41) offers could prove invaluable in propelling the national side from third in the world rankings to first.
“Obviously, his experience as a coach and as a manager is very limited, but it’s going to take something edgy - something a bit different - for the FA to break the mould [and] make those marginal gains,” said Rachel (37), who completed her A Levels at Nelson and Colne College.
“Time will tell as to whether he gets it right on the pitch - creates the right environment - but the FA have thought outside the box,” she added.
Highlighting the cutthroat win-at-all-costs mentality that was engendered in the Manchester United teams under Sir Alex Ferguson in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, Rachel hopes that that outlook will rub off on the players and allow them to reach new heights.
“Bringing someone in with that day-to-day professionalism and winning mentality from that era under Sir Alex Ferguson when they expected to win every single game will be really positive,” she said.
“If the girls are 1-0 down in the biggest game of their lives, he can come in with an anecdote of a scenario he was in: same situation, massive expectation, huge amount of fans, millions of people watching on TV,” Rachel added. “How did he deal with it, how did he cope, how did they turn it around? He can bring real life situations, which I think is so powerful.”
Having spent the majority of her career at Everton Ladies, where she played from 2003 until her retirement in 2015, Brown-Finnis shares strong ties to Merseyside with the new England Women’s manager, who himself played in 300 games for the Toffees.
And having met Neville on numerous occasions, Rachel believes that the criticism he has received after a series of seemingly-sexist tweets posted in 2012 resurfaced is unwarranted and that such small snippets do not represent “a gentleman.”
Calling Neville - who has since apologised and deleted his Twitter account - “a very humble and down-to-Earth person,” Rachel pointed out that while she is not defending Neville’s tweets, taking them out of context is unfair and that “they’re not character profiles of him.”
However, in a zeitgeist defined by the Harvey Weinstein affair and the #MeToo movement, Rachel nevertheless insisted there is still progress to be made, and addressed concerns raised at Neville’s supposed unsuitability for the role by pointing to the fact that poor handling of previous scandals on the FA’s part had put people off from applying.
“The FA shot themselves in the foot with how they dealt with the Eni Aluko allegations and then the inevitable sacking of Mark Sampson,” Rachel said. “Off the back of that, it wasn’t top of everybody’s list as a job, which it should be.
“That’s one of the problems the FA have had in recruiting a manager: the normal process ended up with zero candidates, so they’ve had to think beyond what they’d normally put out as a job specification,” she added.
With the FA facing further criticism for not appointing a woman to the role, Rachel said that while it is the FA’s fault that there is not a plethora of female coaches who are obvious candidates, getting the right person is the most important consideration.
“Hopefully with more female coaches actually qualified, they’ll find a female candidate who’s suitable, but right here right now, there isn’t one,” she said.
“I’d love for, in the future, a female to have a top level job like the England one, but - beyond any tokenism - it has to be the right person, male or female, for the job above and beyond anything.”