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Wednesday, February 21, 2024
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Amid controversy, Timbers introduce Phil Neville as their new head coach

Sexist Twitter posts from decade ago still follow coach

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Phil Neville speaks at a news conference introducing him as new head coach of Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, in Portland, Ore.
Phil Neville speaks at a news conference introducing him as new head coach of Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Anne Peterson) Photo Gallery

PORTLAND — Phil Neville was introduced as the new head coach of the Portland Timbers amid concerns from the Major League Soccer team’s fan base over some of his past posts on social media, as well as his coaching record.

Neville, who has apologized before for sexist Twitter posts from more than a decade ago, addressed them during a press conference Tuesday.

“The tweets that I put out were wrong in 2011 and they’re wrong today,” the former Manchester United and Everton defender said. The tweets have since been deleted.

Neville, who coached Inter Miami before his dismissal in June, signed a deal with Portland that will keep him as the head coach through the 2026 season.

When word of his hiring leaked last week, fans of the team were critical. The Timbers Army supporters group issued a statement asking the club to reconsider.

“We are deeply disappointed that the club has reportedly settled on a finalist for head coach who has a history of sexist public statements that run counter to our ethos as a club, city and supporters’ group, and who also lacks a proven track record as a manager,” the statement said.

Neville said he would like to meet with the supporters to address concerns personally.

“I think the big part of this city is the supporters. And I think the statement that they put out showed that this club cares about their people,” he said. “In reference to the tweets that I made in 2011, I think I addressed these in 2019 when I was named the head coach of the England women’s team, that by no means are they a reflection of me as a person and my character.”

The Timbers organization was also widely criticized for past missteps involving the Portland Thorns of the National Women’s Soccer League and its handling of sexual harassment and misconduct allegations against former Thorns coach Paul Riley. Riley denied the claims, which were outlined last year in a pair of reports commissioned by U.S. Soccer and the NWSL.

Neville replaces Giovanni Savarese, who was let go by the Timbers in August after more than five seasons with the club. Portland went to the playoffs in four of those seasons and reached the MLS Cup title game in 2018 and 2021.

The 46-year-old Neville was 35-42-13 as coach of Inter Miami. But he said he was hampered over his time there, in part because of sanctions imposed on the team by the league for violating salary budget and roster guidelines during the 2020 season.

Neville was also coach of the English women’s national team from January 2018 to January 2021, leading the team at the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

England’s women advanced to the World Cup semifinals in 2019, but were eliminated by the eventual champion United States. Sweden downed the Lionesses in the third-place match.

In addition to his lengthy playing career in the Premier League, Neville also appeared in 59 matches for England’s national team, playing in three European championships.

Portland general manager Ned Grabavoy said the team spoke with up to 20 candidates for the vacancy. The past controversy over the posts made Portland more diligent about vetting him.

“I think the longer that time went on, I felt more and more comfortable that Phil was the right choice for this club without question,” Grabavoy said. “I do point back to — there’s a lot of staff, technical staff, staff on the business side. I work with these people daily. I know how much these people care about the club. Never would this decision be made if there wasn’t full conviction that Phil is the right person and is the right person now.”

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