David Beckham bristled when asked whether Phil Neville’s was hired as Inter Miami coach because they’re buddies.
“Of course, people are always going to turn around and say, oh, it’s because he’s your friend. It’s nothing to do with him being my friend,” Beckham said Friday. “Our ownership group don’t just employ our friends. We employ the best people, whether it’s on the field, off the field, in our backroom staff, the staff that we have work in our training facility, at the stadium.
"We are running a serious soccer club here. And I think at the end of the day, we hire people that we feel are best suited for the job.”
Beckham, a former England captain, was given ownership of a future Major League Soccer team at a discount as part of his transfer to the LA Galaxy for the 2007 season. Miami started play last year and had seven wins, 13 losses and three draws, finishing 10th among 14 teams in the Eastern Conference under coach Diego Alonso. Miami fired Alonso following a 3-0 playoff loss to Nashville.
Neville played with Beckham on Manchester United from 1994-03 and England’s national team from 1996-07, and they are part owners of fourth-tier Salford City in England. Neville coached England’s women’s team from 2018 through this month — the Lionesses lost to the U.S. in a 2019 World Cup semifinal.
“My loyalty to Phil has always been there because as a player, I relied on him to keep making those runs by the side of me,” Beckham said. “I never gave him the ball because I thought I was better crosser of the ball than he was, so he never got those balls. But I knew that he would keep on making those runs because he knew that was what was best for the team.
"And he will make those decisions as a coach, not just of our club, but a coach of our academy system, a coach of our USL team, and as a leader. that’s why he’s in this position. Nothing to do with the relationship that we have, the friendship that we have, the loyalty that we have to each other.”
Beckham, Miami’s director of soccer operations, spoke at a news conference with Jorge Mas, Miami’s managing owner.
“Phil Neville was not handed the Inter Miami job. Phil Neville earned the job,” Mas said. “The fact that he’s David’s friend is a reality and no one runs from that. Actually, we embrace it.”
Neville was hired Monday along with former U.S. midfielder Chris Henderson as chief soccer officer and sporting director. Beckham was absent from March until Christmas Day because of the novel coronavirus pandemic but has been in Florida since, attending training.
Neville is aware many foreign coaches have struggled in MLS with its salary cap, artificial turf and weather extremes, with the exceptions of Gerardo Martino with Atlanta in 2018 and Gary Smith with Colorado in 2010. He recalled spending eight weeks observing Bruce Arena coach Beckham and the Galaxy.
“The biggest challenge for me as a coach is to come here and and prove to people the foreign coaches can come here and be successful,” Neville said. “There will be things about the travel, etc., and the different time zones that we have to adapt to, as well. But ultimately, I think in my football career, in my short coaching career, I’ve had to adapt to different situations like travel, like heat, etc.
"So I’ve got good experience with that. I came out to America for every preseason where we were in a different city every two or three days. We have to adapt to it. And we did do it. We were playing a game in the East Coast, the West Coast, every two or three days. So so I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
He inherits a roster that includes striker Gonzalo Higuaín and midfielder Blaise Matuidi, both 33.
“I think these players know that they’re a little bit hurt. They’re a little bit scared at this moment in time for the performances from last season,” he said. “And they want to come back this season and show everyone how good of players they are. So there’s that hunger, that determination that I’ve seen this week, that I’m sure that we can take into to the season. Add in that with a little bit more quality in terms of the players we want to bring in, I think it will make us a real strong unit.”
Neville was an assistant coach at Valencia in 2015-16 during the time his brother Gary was head coach. Phil Neville was too nervous to answer questions in Spanish on Friday but plans to starting after this season’s opener.
He anticipates a seamless transition from coaching women to men.
“The sessions that I did at Manchester United and the sessions that I did at Valencia were no different than the sessions I did for my women’s team last year,” he said. “It’s football played on the same pitch, with the same size balls, with a referee, with supporters in the stadium and ultimately the same goal, and that’s to win.”
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