Phil Neville will lead the England Lionesses into the World Cup claiming his credentials for the job were impeccable.
Four years ago, Mark Sampson’s side reached the semi-finals in Canada – but Neville’s appointment to succeed him as coach was not greeted with enthusiasm.
But the critics fell mysteriously silent when the Lionesses won the SheBelieves Cup in the United States three months ago.
And Neville is grateful he took the advice of twin sister Tracey, the England Roses netball coach, who told him: “It’s the best thing you’ll ever do.”
England begin their World campaign in France in an ‘auld enemy’ date with Scotland on June 9 as 11-2 third favourites with bookies William Hill.
But Neville believes he has already won his most important battle – by winning over those who doubted his suitability for the job in the first place.
He said: “People said I had no experience of working with elite female athletes – but they forget I was born into a family with an elite female athlete as my twin sister, who drove me mad for about 30 years.
“When England won the Commonwealth Games netball gold medal, there was the coach celebrating with her crowd of players and I was thinking: ‘That’s my bloody sister, that is!’
“My sister told me: ‘You have to go and take this job, it’s the best thing you will ever do’ – and I have to say I have not regretted it for a minute.
“When our brother Gary and I were flying to Champions League games in private jets, she was driving down to London at the crack of dawn every Sunday morning and I saw the sacrifices she made to be successful. We will be cheering on the Roses at their World Cup, just as they will be cheering on the Lionesses.”
Last summer, the nation swung behind Gareth Southgate’s young men’s team as they reached the semi-finals in Russia, where his waistcoat became the must-have fashion accessory of 2018. Neville said: “I know how important it will be to feel the country is behind us: the strength of the men’s team last year wasn’t so much their performances on the field but the way they connected with a whole nation.
“Since I took over, the two things I’ve wanted to do is to win and to inspire the next generation.
“But whether we win, lose or draw in France this summer, we are winning.
“We are winning because the game is continuing to grow and that will carry on whatever we achieve this summer.
“I’m not sure you will see me in a waistcoat like Gareth, though… the girls want me to wear something a bit more trendy!”