Phil Neville has an unusual managerial resume. Caretaker boss at Salford City, a club he co-owns alongside his brother, David Beckham and the other members of the Manchester United Class of ’92. Then, England Women’s manager.
A weird phase for the Lionesses that has already been forgotten and Inter Miami. The club that his friend Beckham built.
The two former United players were forced to have the awkward conversation neither of them wanted, but both knew was needed, when the Herons fell to their fourth consecutive MLS defeat on Wednesday.
The loss left the club rooted to the bottom of the Eastern Conference with a torrid record of five wins and 10 losses from fifteen league outings. At least there’s no relegation.
As easy as it would be to lay all of the blame at Neville’s feet, Beckham deserves a healthy dose of recrimination too. When he opted to appoint his former teammate in 2021 he faced a wave of criticism with some calling the decision a blatant example of favoritism.
Phil Neville took over at Inter Miami from Diego Alonso at the start of the 2021 season
Miami co-owner David Beckham parted ways with his former teammate after dismal form
Miami fans voiced their anger at Neville as they lost 1-0 to New York Red Bulls on Wednesday
‘I’ve had a long history with Phil, on the field off the field.’ Beckham told reporters. ‘I know what he’s like as a personality, I know what he’s like as a coach.
‘And I know what he’s like as a human being. He’s trust-worthy, he’s loyal and he’s hardworking.
‘I think to bring that into our club, not just to work with our first-term but to also work with the academy, the USL guys, our staff and everyone within this club.
‘Because we have to indent a DNA that runs through this club, that’s why we’ve made the moves and decisions that we’ve made.’
Unfortunately for Beckham, his experimental hire went spectacularly wrong.
MLS’ then-joint-newest franchise took the field for the very first time on March 1 2020. Less than a month later the league was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Suffering greatly from a lack of gate receipts and the in-person support required to foster connection with a new team, Miami’s record after their first five MLS games read; zero wins, five defeats, three goals scored.
But under the tutelage of Mexican coach Diego Alonso, the side recovered to finish their debut campaign in 10th-place in the Eastern Conference and earned a spot in the play-in round of the playoffs.
A solid start to life for the fledgling side. Beckham’s primary objective was to see the team be successful, but the man whose 2007 transfer to LA Galaxy led to a surge in soccer’s popularity in the States, was keen for his club to do it in a particular way.
Neville steered the side into a top-six finish in the Eastern Conference last season
Beckham and Neville celebrate with League Cup trophy during their playing days with United
Neville’s son, Harvey, who has come through the youth ranks of the club, drew the ire of supporters as they booed his arrival after coming on as a substitute this week
Beckham’s arrival on American shores led to a change in the MLS rulebook. From that point every team in the league would be allowed to sign up to three players considered outside of their salary cap.
The Designated Player Rule led to a frenzied spending spree by MLS clubs as the likes of Thierry Henry, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Kaka, and a host of other massive names in the game, turned out for US sides.
As an owner, Beckham has been keen to continue the trend he started and snapped up Gonzalo Higuain and Blaise Matuidi from Juventus on free transfers part way through the season.
The following year saw the additions of Ryan Shawcross and Kieran Gibbs but Miami regressed, finishing 11th in Neville’s first season with the club.
Neville was a beneficiary of the low managerial turnover in US football and led the team during a successful 2022 campaign that resulted in a sixth-place finish and qualification for the first round of the playoffs.
Issues surrounding the construction of their $1billion stadium simmered in the background of the season’s early runnings, but Miami appeared to have taken a step forward and were even being linked to a high-profile move for Lionel Messi.
Reports have suggested Lionel Messi could move to Miami in order to secure Barcelona switch
Those rumors have resurfaced, but could indicate the club’s desperation to be linked with big names to build the brand. As the Argentine superstar leaves PSG, with a reported desire to return to Barcelona, L’Equipe are suggesting Inter Miami could act as facilitator between player and club.
What the MLS outfit would stand to gain from such a deal is anyone’s guess, it’s certainly difficult to see how it would help their current plight.
Beckham’s comments after sacking Neville on Thursday were an interesting mirror of the words he chose when appointing the ex-United man. ‘Phil has made a real contribution to the culture of our club with his qualities as a leader and knowledge as a coach,’ he said.
‘Sometimes in this game we have to make the toughest decisions and sadly we feel the time is right to make a change.’
This season Miami won its opener but then went on a six-game losing streak. The pressure was mounting on Neville.
Neville and Beckham are good mates and were groomsmen for friend and agent Dave Gardner
Did he also benefit from his close connection with the owner? Was there more leeway?
Not only were they part of United’s impressive Class of ’92 but they were England teammates and groomsmen for friend and agent Dave Gardner.
Neville, who fumed at reporters last week after Miami supporters booed his son’s substitution onto the pitch, said: ‘I would like to thank the Inter Miami CF ownership group for their trust and making me a part of this project.
‘The players and staff for their impressive commitment, dedication and hard work; and the fans for their unwavering support for the Club since day one.
‘I’m grateful to have played a part in the growth of this Club and wish Inter Miami CF all the best in the future.’
Neville’s assistant Javier Morales will assume the role of interim head coach before Saturday’s home game against DC United, who are fittingly coached by another United old boy: Wayne Rooney.
It would have been a fairytale had the close friends achieved success in MLS with Miami
Having fought so hard to establish a franchise in Miami, Beckham will not be entertaining thoughts of shying away from this massive project. Not only have the omens been good for MLS expansion teams in recent years, but there is a blueprint to follow from the example that has been set.
The last three MLS Cup winners, LAFC, New York City and Atlanta United, were all formed within five years of the Herons.
With a playoff system used to crown a winner and no threat of relegation, Miami could haphazardly stumble its way into a title run in the near future.
But Beckham won’t be sharing it with his good friend, as they hoped.