Ellen White was an England player before Phil Neville became manager, but she became a global star at last summer’s World Cup thanks to a simple piece of advice which transformed her into one of the most feared international strikers.
Needless to say, she will miss him when he steps down as England manager next year and appeared to speak for the whole squad when she claimed his time in charge has been a success despite the failure to win a major tournament.
“I think he changed my game and obviously it came to fruition in the World Cup,” said White, who scored twice in a behind closed doors friendly between two England sides at St George’s Park on Friday night.
“I was a bit resistant for him changing me, saying stay within the width of the 18-yard box but essentially that's where you are [as a centre forward]... that's where the goal is, so he's been amazing for me.
“He has been a positive, driving force for me to get better and better and be clinical in front of goal. It's been great working and being a part of the squad while he's been with us.”
“I don't think selfish is in my nature, which is probably a bit weird for a striker, so maybe he did not say that. I think it was more ruthless, that’s what he wanted, so that's what we really worked on. I've worked on that at club level as well, so it's been a great transition for me.”
When Neville told the Football Association he did not want to extend his contract back in April, so that he could still be in charge for the postponed European Championships in 2022 on home soil, it was a surprise, but not a setback as such.
Since narrowly losing to the USA in the World Cup semi-final in Lyon in July 2019, England have gone backwards and Neville appeared to be running out of ideas during a difficult SheBelieves Cup campaign in March as his team looked increasingly easy to play against.
With the rest of the world starting to invest heavily in women’s football, England can no longer simply throw money at a problem and expect results. They travelled to the World Cup with by far the largest and most expensive backroom team, which will soon be at the disposal of Sarina Wiegman, the coach who led Holland to European Championship success in 2017 and a World Cup final two years later.
Wiegman will see out the final year of her contract with the Dutch before moving to the UK next summer and Neville will see out his with England. They could even face each other at the Olympics next summer if, as expected, Neville is chosen to manage the Team GB side.
It may seem a strange situation, but White is adamant the players are more than happy with how things have worked out as they look to secure a place in the Great Britain squad, that will also include players from the other home nations.
“We know that Phil is our manager for the next 12 months,” she explained. “And that's what we're focusing on. It's a big 12 months for us, especially in terms of Team GB. We've got an Olympics coming up so there's massive selection [challenges] for that.
“Obviously, we knew the length of his contract and obviously with Covid and the fact the Olympics was pushed back we understand [his decision to leave].
“He's been a fantastic manager for us. We've really loved working with him, and we're blessed to have him for another 12 months. We are really lucky, we've got some amazing youngsters coming through and this could be a great experience, this chance for us to rebuild and stake your claim for a shirt.”
At the age of 31, White faces competition from younger players coming through, but she will not give up without a fight and is relishing the challenge ahead as she looks to make sure she goes to Tokyo before impressing a new manager ahead of the Euros the following year.
“I think they have got a massive 12 months to really prove themselves,” White added when asked about the younger players coming through.
“I think the slate has been completely wiped and everyone's going to stake their claim for this squad. We’ve got some unbelievable youngsters coming through, fearless youngsters, in a big 12 months to really stake your claim for an England shirt.
“It’s all about slate clean, working hard, fighting for that shirt. I think that's a really important message for the youngsters and also the experienced ones as well… they're pushing me. It makes England camp so much more competitive which is only going to make our squad even better.”
Whether White can hold them off long terms remains to be seen, but she will almost certainly make Neville’s Great Britain squad. None have improved more under the FA’s big name manager, with a men's football background, than her.