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The Warm-Up: Phil Neville might actually be a really good manager

The Warm-Up: Phil Neville might actually be a really good manager

20/06/2019 at 08:58Updated 20/06/2019 at 15:19

Nick Miller is not comfortable with this knowledge either, but England are through to the World Cup knockouts with a 100% record

THURSDAY’S BIG STORIES

England stride on with a 100% record

Phil Neville doesn’t strike you as a natural leader, the sort of person who could lead troops into battle. Luckily for him, football has long since progressed beyond the idea of a chest-thumping alpha type being the best manager, and while plenty of us were pretty sceptical about the idea of him managing the England women’s team, it’s tough to argue with the results at this World Cup.

England beat Japan – finalists four years ago, let’s not forget – 2-0 last night to secure their place at the top of Group D, a 100% record and the chance to play a third-placed team in the round of 16. A brace from Ellen White – the first a delicious, delicate finish – was enough for the victory in a game where England were terrific in the first-half but fell away a little in the second.

You could make the argument that’s the ideal position to be in: getting the results without peaking too early in the tournament, the knowledge that the winners of these things very rarely play at their absolute best from start to finish. Phil was reasonably happy, anyway:

"The last 16 is about winning but the style is non-negotiable. We have to play with a certain style. We needed the second goal. We were so open and fatigued in the second half that we got exposed a bit. But we got another win and another clean sheet. We are where we want to be, ready to attack the business end of the competition."

So far, so good then for England. Not so much their friends from the north, though…

VAR is a dweeb, as Scotland find out

The reason people don’t like VAR is not because they are necessarily against the concept of technology in football, it’s not because they are luddites and it’s not even because they are against the concept of getting absolutely correct and removing the uncertainty from the game that makes it human.

It’s because if VAR was a person it would be a traffic warden slapping a ticket on your car if you were thirty seconds over your allotted parking time. It would be a bloke saying “Well, actually, I think you’ll find…” on the internet. It would be a ticket inspector who charged an old lady the full fare because she had forgotten her pass. That guy is a dweeb, a Poindexter, an officious nerd. Technically, that guy might be right, but nobody likes that guy.

Last night at the World Cup, we had yet another example of that guy being that guy, with Scotland cruelly sent crashing out of the tournament because goalkeeper Lee Alexander’s toenails were off her line from a missed penalty against Argentina, which was then ordered to be retaken and subsequently scored. That levelled things at 3-3, and the Scots required a victory to progress.

Of course, that doesn’t tell the whole story. It was more Scotland’s fault than the rules’, because they were 3-0 up with 75 minutes gone and should have cruised through to the next round. It feels like making excuses to blame VAR for their bottle job.

But this is a wider point than just about one team. Rules are rules, but VAR has turned football into moments of pointless minute scrutiny, people watching a clip of a goalkeeper and trying to work out if they’ve taken half a step forwards like it’s the Zapruder film. This isn’t what we signed up for. For fans at least, football isn’t supposed to be an exact science. It’s supposed to be fun. And VAR is hoovering up that fun horrendously.

Messi keeps Argentina alive…just about

Leo Messi has almost retired from international football a few times, and you can understand why he’s not entirely keen on the whole caper if he has to constantly bail his team out of trouble. There’s just something dysfunctional about the national side and has been for some time, a dysfunction that nobody has seemingly been able to fix. Not even Messi.

Messi Argentina Paraguay Copa America

Messi Argentina Paraguay Copa AmericaGetty Images

Argentina were 1-0 down to Paraguay and heading out of the Copa America on Wednesday before Messi stepped up and scored a penalty, securing a point that still leaves them bottom of their group, but at least they have a chance of progression should they beat Qatar – Qatar! – in their final game. Messi said:

"We know we’ll be playing for our lives. It would be crazy if we can’t advance from the group stage, when basically three [teams] advance from each group. I have no doubt we’ll do it."

No doubt indeed. All Messi has going against him is history, logic and everything we’ve learned from watching Argentina for the last 20 years.

IN OTHER NEWS

We’re happy for Maurizio Sarri. He seems happier. He seems smarter. He seems in his right place. Just how bad is managing Chelsea these days?

HEROES AND ZEROS

Hero: Luis Enrique

The Warm-Up has no idea what the private family problems are that have caused Luis Enrique to step down from his post as Spain head coach, and it’s none of our business to know either. But even today it takes a brave man to step down from a national team job because there are more important things in life, so we salute you sir, and hope that whatever is wrong gets better soon.

Zero: Paul Scholes

Tut tut, Scholesy. By now, you would think that anyone involved in football would know the rules about betting: just don’t do it. At all. Even a little bit. But Paul Scholes did, wagering over £26,000 while he was a director of Salford City, for which he received a slap on the wrists and an £8,000 fine. “It was a genuine mistake and was not done with any deliberate intention to flout the rules,” he said. Tut tut, Scholesy.

HAT TIP

"At the age of 14, when he was a member of the youth setup at Paris Saint-Germain, he developed a form of arthritis in one of his hips. Doctors told him that his dreams of becoming a top-level footballer were over, and he was even warned that he might never walk again. After several long months of rehabilitation, Mendy set about disproving those gloomy prognoses, first dropping into amateur football, then breaking into the professional game with Le Havre and eventually earning himself a move to French heavyweights Lyon. Earlier this month, he joined Real Madrid for an initial fee of €48 million (£42.7 million) that could rise to €53 million (£47.2 million)."

RETRO CORNER

It’s a very happy birthday to Frank Lampard. He might get a slightly better present than this at some stage this week, but as we can’t give him a contract to manage Chelsea, instead we offer a compilation of his best goals from his playing days at Stamford Bridge.

COMING UP

Football never stops. As much as we might want it to, as much as it might be healthy for us all if it did, it genuinely never stops. The addicts among you hvae a choice of games, with the USA v Sweden and the Netherlands v Canada in the World Cup, Germany in action at the Under-21 European Championships, Uruguay v Japan at the Copa America and some Gold Cup games too.

Just as football never stops, neither does Tom Adams, and he’ll be here to ease you into Friday.

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