Phil Neville PR Disaster

Phil Neville: The FA’s latest PR Disaster

Good morning. As we move into February, January is a mere speck in the rear-view mirror -hooray. So long perpetual darkness and cold weather, ye shan’t be missed! Last week, our case law update looked at the effective date of termination, this week, we have our round-up of all things employment law that have happened this month. For those of you who missed it, our employment law forecast was made at the beginning of January.

Last year, the Football Association attracted a lot of criticism – and landed itself in front of a Parliament Select committee – for the handling of a complaint of race discrimination and subsequent revelations about the manager’s inappropriate relationships with players in a previous job.

You’d think this experience would mean the FA were cautious before making their next appointment to avoid any further furor? Well in theory they were.

Given the FA turned a blind eye to the previous manager’s impropriety for over four years, it seemed that background searches and personal character would be just as important as other factors, like experience and knowledge of the women’s game, when choosing a successor. Indeed, this led to many front-runners dropping out due to fears of unwarranted scrutiny of their personal life and past.

However – in true English FA style – this meant that all the preferred candidates, who had experience of coaching successful women’s club and national teams, were now not interested. It seemed the opportunity to coach the third best team in the world was not worth the risk and the FA were running out of options. Step forward, Phil Neville.

Despite not applying for the job, Neville was allegedly approached after being suggested as a joke at an FA Christmas party. Neville had a successful playing career for Manchester United and Everton, had stints as an assistant coach at both Manchester United and Valencia, both of which resulted in disastrous results, and his only experience as a manager was a one-game spell at Salford FC, a team he co-owns. Appropriate experience? No.

Neville also has no real ties to women’s football. Having never played (obviously) or coached a women’s team and only doing pundit work for men’s football. This lack of knowledge wasn’t helped by calling the players, ‘a great bunch of girls,’ during his first interview. Additionally, in 2014, there were several complaints to the BBC that he was too boring to commentate on games. Ouch. Knowledge of the women’s game? None.

So, having not met two key criteria in recruitment and being deemed a stick-in-the-mud by the public, surely this appointment was due to Neville being a safe pair of hands who won’t get broiled in controversy? Whoops. No. (Like Theresa May’s younger footballing brother)

Less than 24 hours after being appointed, it appeared that social media posts existed where Neville had made several sexist comments, including making light of domestic violence and stating women should be in the kitchen and taking the kids to school. Maybe the FA missed these tweets when doing their in-depth character research? No, they just didn’t think it was relevant. Sigh.

The tweets were also made 6 years ago, when Neville was 35, so youthful immaturity cannot be used as a defense. But apparently, the FA doesn’t think this conduct should result in disciplinary action. In for a penny, in for a pound.

Whilst not as much of a PR fiasco as the racism scandal, this debacle doesn’t suggest that the FA has learned its lesson. In any event, they are now left with a manager who didn’t apply for the job, didn’t have relevant experience and had expressed views that were incompatible with the role.

The issue of discrimination also comes into play, as female candidates felt that their past and credentials would be scrutinised more than the eventual (male) successful applicant’s. We predict a follow up to this story within the next 12 months. Chances of Neville getting 2 years’ service and qualifying for unfair dismissal rights? No comment.