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Dublin: 17 °C Friday 7 August, 2020

TV Wrap - Phil Neville's bluster and ego sets up RTÉ's must-watch World Cup coverage

The England boss has been the breakout star, and thankfully, TG4 and the state broadcaster have been around to bring it to us.

Updated Jul 1st 2019, 9:37 PM

THIS COLUMN WAS disappointed to hear RTÉ Director-General Dee Forbes last week class the 2018 World Cup along with the Papal visit as a “special event” which significantly drained resources out Montrose way. 

Norway v England - FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 - Quarter Final - Stade Oceane Phil Neville. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

The two events are not remotely comparable – only one of them involved the veneration of a wrinkled and supposedly infallible old man at the head of a wealthy and clandestine global operation, given Sepp Blatter wasn’t around. 

Also, people actually watched the World Cup. 

It was a commercial success – England’s semi-final defeat to Croatia was viewed by more people than either of the All-Ireland finals, proving once again that our national sport is Watching England Lose.

There will soon be pressure on RTÉ to contract their World Cup coverage given the men’s edition will soon be an unwieldy, 48-team tournament, so it is vital to fully support their showing every game live. 

The day RTÉ skimp and settle for just extended highlights of Saudi Arabia v Peru will be the day we lose an essential part of ourselves. 

Although it scarcely needs to be said, RTÉ’s ongoing coverage of the Women’s World Cup has been a success.

Louise Quinn is an excellent analyst, Lisa Fallon an outstanding co-commentator and on Saturday they did something the men’s panel haven’t done in quite a while – they set the agenda on an issue with an Irish team by phoning the departing coach Colin Bell.

Virgin Media have had that gig in the last while.

Aside from that, their coverage – along with TG4’s – has done the nation a wider service: they have given an Irish platform to the breakout star of the competition, England manager Phil “Phillip” Neville.

From the point of view of almost every other nation, major tournaments eventually become about English hubris and the endlessly creative ways in which it is punished. 

Since the advent of The Golden Generation, it’s been quite the list: Ronaldinho’s lobbing of David Seaman in 2002; the ‘keeper who didn’t need gloves in the shootout defeat to Portugal at Euro 2004; Ronaldo’s crafty wink after Rooney’s red card two years later; the failure to even qualify in 2008; the karmaic goal-line injustice that clouded the hammering against the Germans two years later; Andrea Pirlo nonchalantly dinking a penalty over Joe Hart’s eejit theatrics at Euro 2012; finishing bottom of the group with a single point in Brazil in 2014 and, of course, the Euro 2016 defeat to Iceland days after the Brexit vote.

Soccer - 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany - Quarter Final - England v Portugal - AufSchalke Arena Wayne Rooney is sent off for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho at the 2006 World Cup. Source: EMPICS Sport

Gareth Southgate then accidentally ascended to the job and, influenced by this litany of disasters, deliberately cultivated a more humble and likeable team in his image for the World Cup a year ago.

In contrast to all of this, Phil Neville has found in the women’s game no such baggage and has freely allowed a huge ego – long hidden in the shadow of others at Manchester United, Everton, the BBC and the family dinner table – to flourish.

Having started promisingly after the opening win over Scotland – “I’m the biggest problem”, he said as he called for an increase in standard and performance – he has become increasingly brash.

He now speaks as if he is at the World Cup on a sober mission to civilise something unruly and alien, knowing there’s a knighthood waiting for him if he does it.

The something, in this case, being the women’s game.

Nowhere was he more ludicrous than after England’s 3-0 win over Cameroon in the last-16 of the competition. 

“I am completely and utterly ashamed of the opposition”, said Neville after the Cameroon players had briefly threatened not to restart after VAR calls went against them. 

“The behaviour was wrong, because it’s an image of women’s football that is going worldwide about a team that are refusing to play.” 

He has retained his role of the sport’s policeman, scolding the USA’s lack of “etiquette” in scouting the England team hotel for the final. 

He later told his press conference after the Cameroon win that “I came to this World Cup to be successful but also to play a part in making women’s football globally more visible.” 

The women’s game is truly fortunate to have as benevolent a soul as Phil Neville, selflessly taking the England job and promoting the sport at a time when he was unemployed and hastily scrubbing yearsold tweets like “Relax I’m back chilled – just battered the wife!!! Feel better now!” 

But hey, let’s not persecute a man for what he tweeted eight years ago, lest it would bring shame upon the men’s game and hurt its appeal around the world. 

Neville was equally generous in hailing Lucy Bronze as the best player in the world, in which he not only compared her favourably to the rest of the women’s game, but also to Phil Neville – high praise from arguably the third most-talented sporting Neville. 

Having spoken of winning the tournament for a while, he has moved on to something else. “We’re not getting carried away, we’ve lost two semi-finals”, said Neville as he was getting carried away. 

“I think we’re getting to that legacy moment.” 

Neville has a fine squad of players and is clearly doing a good job, but ahead of tomorrow’s semi-final against the United States, the England coach stressing his side’s superior nobility and speaking in august terms of legacy and inspiration is setting them for a hideous fall to match anything we tuned in to watch with the Golden Generation.

Perhaps it won’t happen, and all of this bluster will be reframed as canny confidence on the road to ‘Arise, Sir Phillip.’

Either way, England v USA tomorrow night is appointment viewing on RTÉ and proof that whenever and wherever there’s a World Cup – they should be showing it. 

 - First published today at 18.11

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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