It was Phil Neville’s decision to step down as England manager following the conclusion of his contract, says Baroness Sue Campbell, the Football Association’s head of women’s football.
Neville will leave the role next summer, having been appointed in January 2018 on a deal running to 2021.
He led the Lionesses to a first SheBelieves Cup success and a fourth-place finish at the World Cup in 2019.
Campbell says Neville “was very clear he’d come to do a three-year job”.
“The option to extend that contract… I didn’t take it beyond offering it to him,” she added. “I’d have to have taken it to the board and to other people, but he didn’t want that.”
Neville was set to take charge of Team GB at the 2020 Olympic Games, followed by overseeing England’s campaign at the European Championships.
But Euro 2021 was postponed because of coronavirus and will now take place from 6-31 July 2022 – after the termination of Neville’s contract. It is still unknown whether Neville’s replacement will manage Team GB at the Olympics.
The FA says the decision will be made when the new England coach is appointed “because they may just want to focus on England”.
‘We’ve got outstanding candidates’
Applications for the England job close this month and Campbell says the FA has had “very, very good interest from significantly experienced coaches and I’m very optimistic that we’ll move to a new appointment this summer”.
“When that person starts will depend on them to a large degree and also on discussions with Phil,” she added.
Former United States boss Jill Ellis remains a favourite to succeed Neville, alongside Chelsea manager Emma Hayes, ex-Manchester City coach Nick Cushing and Manchester United’s Casey Stoney, among others.
But Campbell says the process of appointing an England women’s manager has changed since Neville succeeded Mark Sampson, because of the profile of the game going “dramatically upwards”.
“There’s a whole raft of things. And people are now looking from overseas and thinking we’re taking this game very, very seriously now,” said Campbell.
“It’s well established, it’s ambitious, and it really wants to go somewhere. So if you’re a coach with similar ambition and desire to come and work alongside great players in an environment which is very supportive, then you’re interested in this role.
“I’m optimistic we won’t see people dropping away. I think we’ve got some really outstanding candidates.”
‘England must climb Everest’
Neville’s appointment was largely seen as an attempt to grow the women’s game, about which Campbell says he has done “an absolutely amazing job”.
“He has always been accessible, he’s always willing to talk, be available. Has that distracted from the performance on the pitch? I don’t know,” added Campbell.
“Coaches that I’ve seen produce world class champions in rowing, sailing, cycling, track and field… they’re focused on performance and very driven. Phil is all of those things but maybe this has been a distraction for him, I don’t know.”
England’s ambition remains to “be the best in the world”, added Campbell, but they will have to “climb a mountain” to achieve it.
“Everybody else is improving, the game is growing at an incredible rate around the world,” she added. “It’s an Everest because we are setting our sights high.
“We could say we’d like to climb a hill in Derbyshire, but that would be saying that we’d like to trundle along and hopefully get a bit better. That’s not what I want us to do. I want us to be the best.”
And when asked if success at national level remains key for the growth of domestic football in the Women’s Super League, Campbell said they are “the showcase”.
“The England team has to remain a team that is successful and showcases the game at the highest level,” she added. “We’ve got to start to build a team that can win the World Cup in 2023.”
The FA also says there are plans in place to hold domestic friendlies and aims to set up training camps for the England team in the next few months while there are no competitive fixtures.