Phil Neville can quiet critics only by leading England Women to glory

BURTON-UPON-TRENT, England -- It was one of those awkward moments, and Phil Neville has had a few of those since he was confirmed as the England Women's Head Coach on Tuesday, when a question comes out of the blue like an uncontrollable pass.

"So, Phil, who is the leading goal scorer right now in the Women's Super League?"

"I don't know every facet, but I will," Neville said in response during his official unveiling at St George's Park on Monday. "When I went to Spain, I knew three Valencia players. I didn't know the language, didn't know La Liga, but after three months, I knew the language and every player and everything about Spain.

Do you want another guess at the top scorer?

"I'm gonna go for, it's not Izzy ..."

Twenty seconds elapsed before the former Manchester United and Everton defender was given a reprieve, but only ever so slightly, with a follow-up question about his qualifications for a job in charge of the third-best women's team in world football.

In fairness to Neville, a man capped 59 times at the international level by England, his uncertain offering of "Izzy" was correct, but he did not know for certain that the Manchester City and England forward, Izzy Christiansen, was currently top of the WSL scoring charts. The 41-year-old then offered the name of Nikita Parris, another City player, as he left the room.

Considering the week he just had, it was a stumble Neville could ill afford. But having seen his appointment last week immediately overshadowed by the re-emergence of tweets from 2011, in which he made remarks that could be perceived as referencing domestic abuse, Neville put on a broadly impressive performance in front of the cameras and microphones at the National Football Centre. He was clearly remorseful about the tweets and the damage caused to both his reputation and that of the Football Association, but he was not looking to avoid further scrutiny.

Neville was certainly subjected to a grilling about his comments and qualifications.

"When the FA announced my appointment last Tuesday, it was probably one of the best moments of my career," he said. "Obviously subsequently, the 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 even that, 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."

With his predecessor, Mark Sampson, losing his job last September due to conduct deemed inappropriate by the FA, Neville was walking into a storm by accepting the job before the added complication of his tweets. The FA's leading candidates for the role -- from a long list with reportedly 140 names -- all rejected the opportunity to take it on, with some expressing concerns about the media scrutiny and vetting process.

Neville did not apply but was approached by Baroness Sue Campbell, the FA's head of the Women's game, and he quickly landed the job after impressing during an interview in London earlier this month. But with his managerial career restricted to two games as caretaker boss of Valencia and one game in charge of Salford City, a club he co-owns with former United teammates, Neville insisted he was the best candidate for the job.

"I can't be more qualified than I am," he said. "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. I've coached at the elite level, which I think stands me in good stead.

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

Just like Gareth Southgate, the England Men's Head Coach, Neville has been charged with making his England team the best in the world. He might have a better chance of achieving that aim than Southgate, with the Lionesses already the third-best in the world and regarded as a growing force in the game.

If he can win a World Cup with England, will he be a contender for the men's job if, or when, it becomes available?

"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.

"I have to succeed in this job, and that means by winning. Finishing third at the World Cup won't be good enough for me, it won't be good enough for Sue [Campbell], and it won't be good enough for the players. That's the kind of scrutiny I'll be putting myself under. I want to take the women's game to the next level."

It wasn't a yes or a no to that question, but if he succeeds in his new role, it is one that Neville will want to be asked again.

As for the rest of the difficult ones, only success on the pitch will turn down the volume on those asking.