Phil Neville says that England 'have to put on a spectacle' against Germany at sold-out Wembley

Katie Whyatt
The Telegraph
England manager Phil Neville has said he wants England to repeat their sold-out Wembley match against Germany every year - Getty Images Europe
England manager Phil Neville has said he wants England to repeat their sold-out Wembley match against Germany every year - Getty Images Europe

On Wembley Way at 3pm on Friday, Jordan Nobbs, Beth Mead, Ellen White and Steph Houghton left one of the artisan coffee trucks, a final glimpse of freedom before going into lockdown ahead of the biggest game - in terms of crowd size, at least - of their lives. 

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England Women have sold out Wembley - only the second time they have played at the national stadium in their history - for an international friendly against two-time world champions Germany. In the summer, at the World Cup, their head coach Phil Neville gave them the freedom of France to explore: how could there be a media circus, after all, over a group of female footballers?

This is different. They cannot walk down Wembley Way on Saturday morning, when the first of the expected 85,000 fans arrive in earnest. Neville has warned them. A few feet ahead of Houghton and co. were Jill Scott, Demi Stokes and Carly Telford, and who could begrudge them a meander beneath the famous Wembley arch when their portraits beam back, life-sized, from the nearest tube station? 

At noon that morning the Wembley ground staff began peeling down the banners advertising War Horse at Wembley Arena and replacing them with prints of Scott, Neville and Houghton. They may become something of a mainstay given Neville let slip in his press conference that he and the FA were hoping for “three or four of these big occasions” in the build-up to Tokyo 2020 and Euro 2021. 

“I think the biggest thing from a circus-like point of view is that these 86,000 people come back, just like they did in the World Cup,” said Neville. “They watched and thought, I want a bit of that. I want to go and see these players. I want to come back to Wembley. 

“I want to do this yearly and yearly and yearly, and make it a regular occurrence. I know that’s what the FA are working towards. To do that, we have to put on a spectacle tomorrow. When players, people, fans are inspired, they’re inspired by what happens on the field. When you get to games like this, you have to forget the side show, the circus going around us.” 

The sense of occasion is inescapable. Throughout his tenure Neville has made a point of deferring to the efforts of previous generations of Lionesses, many of whom will be in attendance as Football Association guests. England’s most-capped player Fara Williams will lead a team talk. Joining her on the sidelines is Toni Duggan, who has withdrawn from the squad with a lower back injury. Otherwise, England have a clean bill of health. 

But England need more than a bumper crowd and empty treatment room given the scrutiny they incurred during the five-game post-World Cup winless run, only recently ended with a 1-0 win over Portugal. “As the manager of this team, we need to produce a performance tomorrow to reach the heights we did in the summer,” says Neville.

<span>England ended a five-game losing streak against Portugal recently</span> <span>Credit: Getty Images </span>
England ended a five-game losing streak against Portugal recently Credit: Getty Images

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is that in the first camp after a major tournament, there probably shouldn’t be any games for us. We should probably look at players’ wellbeing better. They’re still really inexperienced, some of them, at how to be a top, elite athlete. Fine when you go to your club and train for an hour and a half, but the extra 22 hours in a day is what’s going to make you that best player in the world. When you come back from a major tournament, you are fatigued emotionally and physically. 

“It has been a steep learning curve for them because during that period they’ve had to play games and they’ve had to win. That’s always the difficulty for younger players - that you can rest them and take them out of the limelight, but some of them have had to perform when they’re not at their best, be under pressure for not performing at their best and then be criticised for not performing when they’re not in a fit state to. That is playing at the top level.” 

Neville attributed the slump to the lack of competitive games - as hosts, England have already qualified for Euro 2021 - in his squad’s calendar. Germany, who have scored 31 times in their last four games, are the sternest test in the post World-Cup schedule.

“They’ve got probably three or four different systems that could play at any given time,” warned Neville. “They are in a state of transition but they still maintain their spot: second in the world. They know what they are doing, they are consistent and that’s what you will see. You will see a team that will be disciplined, a team that won’t be scared of that occasion and we will have to play probably as good as we’ve ever played under me to get that win.”

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