Phil Neville says the excitement for his new gig at Inter Miami still feels fresh, even though he took the job in January.
Neville led England to the Women’s World Cup semifinals in 2019. It was expected that he’d take the team to the Olympics in Tokyo this summer, but he left early to join David Beckham’s Major League Soccer team.
“I think I came here three or four weeks ago, and even now when I walk into the building, I drive down the I-95 and I turn off and I just see the stadium and I see the complex, it makes me really proud,” Neville said. “It makes me feel as if I’m part of something really special. And that hasn’t changed yet.”
Inter Miami officially opened training camp this week, along with most other MLS teams.
Neville, 44, takes over for Diego Alonso, who guided Miami through its coronavirus-shortened inaugural season last year.
Miami made the playoffs, marking just the seventh time that an expansion franchise reached the postseason, finishing the regular season 7-13-3. But the club fell to fellow expansion team Nashville in the opening round.
Miami parted ways with Alonso, paving the way for a reunion between Neville and Beckham, who played together with Manchester United and on England’s national team.
As a player, Neville’s Manchester United teams won six Premier League titles and three FA Cups. He appeared in 59 matches with the national team from 1996 to 2007.
His new job ramped up considerably Monday, even though the team had trained unofficially for a week.
“I think as a coach, what you look for, you look for reactions, you look for people trying to make an impact, you look at the conversation that you have, and about the words being spoken. And everyone is doing and saying the right things at this moment in time,” Neville said of his first impressions. “We have a long way to go.”
Neville is among six coaches taking over MLS teams this year. Greg Vanney moved from Toronto to the LA Galaxy while Chris Armas, let go by the Red Bulls last September, took Vanney’s place at Toronto.
Former Argentine star Gabriel Heinze is the new head coach at Atlanta, Hernán Losada has taken over at D.C. United, and Wilfried Nancy was hired to replace Thierry Henry in Montreal.
Montreal will play home games to start the season at Inter Miami’s stadium in Fort Lauderdale because of travel restrictions between Canada and the United States. Toronto will also start the season in Florida. It was unclear where the third Canadian team, the Vancouver Whitecaps, will play.
LAFC coach Bob Bradley was opening camp this week — like Neville — with similarly lofty ambitions. But for Bradley, they include the hope that the team will have fans in the stands come the start of the season.
“The news about the possible return of some fans to our stadium, that part is incredible,” Bradley said. “All of us are so excited for the day when, safely, we have our incredible fans back in the stadium and there’s some atmosphere. That has been so important to LAFC from the beginning.”
Except for two games at the start of last season, most MLS teams were prevented from allowing fans in their stadiums. There were a few exceptions when the teams returned from the MLS is Back tournament in Florida.
The 2021 MLS season begins April 17, a start date that was pushed back after the league and its players renegotiated their collective bargaining agreement.
Four MLS teams started camp early this year in preparation for CONCACAF Champions League play, including Portland, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Columbus.
The new season comes at a somewhat turbulent time for Miami. The team is breaking in a new coach and sporting director Chris Henderson. MLS is also investigating the team’s signing of Blaise Matuidi last August and whether it broke the league’s salary guidelines.
Neville is embracing the challenges of his new job — even in the midst of ongoing coronavirus concerns.
“We’re going to make sure that we push the players, we raise the level of expectations, and we put high demands on them. We’re training a lot of double sessions this week,” he said. “We want to make sure that from the first week we hit the ground running really fast.”
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