David Beckham and Phil Neville have known each other for the majority of their lives, coming together in the Manchester United academy when they were 15-years-old. They won countless trophies together under Sir Alex Ferguson at the English giants.
In addition to sharing a locker room, they often shared the right flank with Beckham in the midfield and Neville in defense. It was a time Beckham recalled fondly as he sat conducting a virtual press conference to introduce Neville as Inter Miami's newest head coach.
Beckham smiled as he harkened back to the days at Old Trafford. Neville bombing up the line on an overlap, the two with great chemistry that comes from countless hours on the training field.
“I never gave him the ball because I thought I was a better crosser than him," Beckham said with a smile.
But within those playful recollections, there lay a more serious, and timely, point.
"But I knew he’d keep making those runs because he knew that was best for the team," Beckham said. "He’ll make those decisions as a coach at the club, of our academy system and USL team. As a leader, that’s why he’s in this position. He’s the right man for the job. Since he’s been here this week, his work ethic, the changes he’s made with the staff, players and the facility is so important. That’s what I expect at our football club.”
After retiring from a glittering playing career, Neville continued into management as he planned. He most recently enjoyed a spell in charge of the England women's national team, which was his first head coaching job after several years on various coaching staffs. He was an assistant with England men's U-21 national team, Manchester United and Valencia.
“When people throw that I have a lack of experience, I throw back that actually I have a lot of experience," Neville said. "Being around winners, both as a player and coaching at the top level with Valencia, Manchester United and the England women’s national team.”
The relationship between Beckham and Neville, as well as the seemingly expeditious nature of Neville's hiring, prompted predictable murmurings that Neville only got the gig because he's Beckham's friend. Not so, stressed Beckham.
“Of course people are always going to turn around and say ‘oh it’s because he’s your friend,'" Beckham said. "It has nothing to do with him being my friend. Our ownership group don’t just employ our friends, we employ the best people. We’re running a serious soccer club. At the end of the day, we hire people who we feel are best suited for the job. My loyalty to Phil has always been there.”
Managing owner Jorge Mas hit back even harder on that narrative.
“I’ll say it in more direct terms than David: Phil Neville was not handed the Inter Miami job," Mas said. "He earned the job. There was a very thorough interview process, with multiple candidates. As you may imagine, Inter Miami head coaching position is an attractive position. There was interest from coaches all over the globe. We conducted multiple interviews for the job with a myriad of candidates. Phil earned it. Phil is the right man for the job at this time.”
After a disappointing expansion campaign, Neville takes over for Diego Alonso, under whom Miami never quite jelled, despite midseason boosts of Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Blaise Matuidi and Gonzalo Higuain, though snuck into the playoffs as the final seed in the Eastern Conference. They fell 3-0 to fellow expansion side Nashville SC in the Play-In Round to officially end their season.
"These moves were precipitated by the fact that we as owners won’t settle for mediocrity," Mas said. "We think bringing in new leadership will help us excel and establish a winning culture. Chris and Phil are the leaders we need for the following chapters of Inter Miami.”
Before long, sporting director Paul McDonough and Alonso had both officially departed the club. In came Neville and new sporting director Chris Henderson.
Henderson spent the last 13 seasons as sporting director for the Seattle Sounders, where he helped guide the club to a plethora of trophies, including two MLS Cups, one Supporters' Shield and four US Open Cups.
“I always believed in the Miami project," Henderson said. "I feel this is a global club. The resources and support of ownership is the best in the league, the facilities are one of the best in the world. It’s fantastic for our guys. In this project, there’s potential. To compete for championships and be able to build something, a complete DNA for the club. To create a culture.”
With the press conference over, the new leaders of Inter Miami will start laying that culture.
“The biggest challenge for me is to prove to people that foreign coaches can come here and be successful," Neville said. "That’s the one thing that excites me, to prove people wrong. To make sure that when I do leave, I’m successful.”