Inter Miami coach Phil Neville, a former defender on the English national team, had plenty to say about last Sunday’s European championship game, which England lost to Italy in a penalty shootout.
Asked on Thursday if he watched the thrilling match with other English players and staff members, Neville broke into a smile and said: “I hate watching games with other people. I like watching alone so I can make my own opinions, curse, smash the TV, throw my water bottle down. I’ve got to say, I went through every emotion in that game. I was physically and mentally drained at the end of it and devastated because I’ve worked closely with [England coach] Gareth Southgate and he’s done an incredible job.”
Neville went on to call Southgate “a national treasure” for getting England to its first major championship game in 55 years.
“Gareth Southgate is a leader of great men,” he said. “Why is he a leader of great men? Because he can connect with people.
“He connected a footballing set of supporters and team that probably didn’t like each other for a long period of time — and I experienced that as a player. I played in England teams where we didn’t have cohesion, team spirit, togetherness, and that’s why we always failed.
“Now, everybody wants to play for England, everybody wants to support England. The joy which you saw in that stadium was like nothing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Neville gushed about the character of the young England squad.
“We have a group of young players that are not only great footballers but great ambassadors for our country, players that are putting our politicians to shame, who speak with great empathy and humility, going out there in the communities and putting right what the government’s not doing, feeding sick children, going into inner cities in England and giving life to those areas,” Neville said.
He gave a special shout out to Marcus Rashford, Jaden Sancho and Bukayo Saka, the three players who missed penalty kicks and later faced social media bigotry.
“The three players who missed the penalties have all come out and said sorry. There is no need for them to say sorry. We should be thanking them for the joy, their work and their humility that they’ve given to a country that for the last 18 months has been in a real bad situation.
“They should be immensely proud. Looking at what happened to Marcus Rashford in his hometown [the defacing of his portrait mural], people have wrapped their arms around him. People of London have wrapped their arms around Saka, people of Manchester will wrap arms around Sancho because these are national treasures, not because of what they do on the football field but because of how they behave in life. More importantly, they are great ambassadors for the country.”