Phil Neville believes that Lucy Bronze’s response to his challenge a year ago to add “goals, personality and character” to her game has launched her into global view, following her Uefa Women’s Player of the Year award and a place on the Fifa best player shortlist. “That’s what she has done in the 12-month period,” he said. “And I still think she can do better.”
Lyon right-back Bronze, who will likely find herself tried in midfield again by the manager when the team play Norway on Tuesday night in a rematch of June’s World Cup quarter-final, is struggling to find the balance between an unrelenting drive to be the best and, as a player who likes to avoid the limelight, handling the attention that being the best brings.
“I still don’t believe I’m worthy of being there just yet,” she said modestly. “I think anyone who knows me will tell you I want to be the best at everything. It’s not to put anyone else down, it’s not for the glory – it’s just for the self-motivation, the belief that I’ve always had.
“I’ve always wanted to be the best or to be good at what I do. The accolades that come along in sport are not really for me. That’s why I play a team sport. I preferred the team trophy without the individual accolades.”
The Lionesses manager joins Bronze, having been shortlisted alongside the US national team coach Jill Ellis and Netherlands manager Sarina Wiegman for Fifa’s Best Women’s Coach of the Year. Neville was surprised at his nomination. “I always think if you’re the best coach you win things. So for me it’s Jill Ellis, I voted for her, she deserves it, she’s got the best team, she’s the best coach,” he said.
A word on the fans and critics who question his coaching ability and say he has been lucky with the fully professional team he has inherited drew an emphatic response. “It doesn’t stack up,” he said bluntly.
“When you do have great players you’ve got to manage those players, you’ve got to go away for a long period of time and manage players. The risks we took last year in terms of rotations, I don’t see many managers in world football doing that in the women’s game. I don’t see many managers in women’s football playing the types of short corners we play, taking the risks we do on the field in terms of expansiveness.
“We made nine changes against Japan, for a game we needed to win to win a trophy that we’ve never won before [the SheBelieves Cup]. People criticised me but I was brave enough to make those decisions because I trusted the players and they trusted me. I’ve got bravery that no other coach has. So thank your lucky stars. I think with the players we’ve got we can go far.”
Bronze though, quipped that he is no Pep Guardiola. “You’ve got to be able to manage egos, characters, the good and the bad, tournaments – I think that’s something that he brings to the table more. Is he the world’s coaching genius like a Pep? Probably not. But he wants us to play football, get the ball on the floor and he knows that the players are capable of it.”