LYON, France (Reuters) - It was no surprise that Phil Neville had made great strides with England’s women’s team since taking over as coach given his past achievements in football, United States manager Jill Ellis said ahead of the two sides’ World Cup semi-final clash on Tuesday.
Neville’s appointment in January of last year was met with a fair amount of scepticism due to his lack of experience in the women’s game.
However, with the 42-year-old having led the Lionesses to the last four by winning every match and conceding only one goal, Ellis highlighted Neville’s 11 years at Manchester United playing under Alex Ferguson as proof of his credibility.
“Surprised? No,” Ellis told a news conference when asked for her reaction to Neville’s success.
“I think if you have pedigree in this game, we’re products of our environment and he obviously had a very good mentor there (at Manchester United) for a while.
“So I’m not surprised and in terms of managing the team I definitely think the team has made strides. You can see they’ve bought in, you can see that they are playing hard and bought in to what he wants them to do. So he’s done a really good job.”
Ellis got a taste of Neville’s new-look England at the SheBelieves Cup in March, when the world champions were held to a 2-2 draw on home soil.
Born in the English city of Portsmouth, Ellis, who said she was a United supporter when growing up, did at least get an insight into the candour of Neville the manager if not his tactics, which have shifted throughout the tournament.
“I haven’t seen Phil on the inside so I can’t speak to what he’s like with his team (but) he conducts himself in a great way,” she said. “I enjoyed our sideline conversations at the SheBelieves Cup. He seems a great person.”
The respect was mutual as Neville spoke of his admiration for Ellis before the clash in Lyon in which England will be looking to reach their first World Cup final, having failed at this stage four years ago in Canada.
At that time, the U.S. went on to win a record third title and they have won their past 10 World Cup matches.
Still, Ellis was not getting over-confident and denied that a team visit this weekend to a potential pre-final hotel in Lyon was an arrogant move.
“We’ve got tough opponents still ahead of us, we have to earn every right to advance in this tournament,” she said.
“You have to plan ahead... Arrogance has got nothing to do with us, that’s planning preparation for our staff. I think that’s pretty normal,” Ellis added.
England face the U.S. at the Stade de Lyon on Tuesday before the other semi-final between the Netherlands and Sweden on Wednesday in the same venue.
Reporting by Christian Radnedge; Editing by Clare Fallon