The Portland Timbers held a press conference to introduce their new head coach, Phil Neville, and to answer for the wave of backlash coming from the Timbers Army over the decision.
The 107 Independent Supporters Trust (107ist), “the machinery behind the Timbers Army and, since 2013, the Rose City Riveters, released a public statement “urging the front office to reconsider the hire,” because, “his history of sexist public statements that run counter to our ethos as a club, city, and supporters’ group.”
Neville addressed the statement in his opening comments this morning, saying that the tweets he sent in 2011 were wrong and they are wrong today. The tweets in question included joking about having “just battered the wife” and sexist comments about women doing domestic work.
The fans believe a choice like Neville is at best tone deaf and at worst, spiteful given the clubs history with mishandling sexual abuse allegations and domestic violence charges. Many feel like there was a missed opportunity to build back trust.
General Manager, Ned Grabavoy, said that they knew early on in the hiring process about the tweets but felt like going through the process and getting to know Phil was more important than dismissing him outright. Ned has also expressed a willingness to meet with the fans. No meeting has been announced yet.
Neville talked about how the soccer culture of Portland was one of the things that drew him to the position. He stated that he wants to get to know the Timbers Army and wants them to get to know him and his character.
When asked about his plans for the team he said, “I think we have a real lot of work to do. but I think we are closer than we think and I think with the foundations that are already in place, and I think that’s really important…there’s people in this football club who’ve been here a long time and I think that kind of investment, that kind of longevity breeds success.”
Grabavoy was previously asked what metrics he held for gauging success with the changes coming to the team. “The goal is to not just qualify for the playoffs. So when we talk about failure, because we did fail, just qualifying for the playoffs is not where we want to be. We’d like to be in the top tier of the conference. The goal is to try to stay there over a sustained amount of time, 3-5 seasons I believe gives you a chance to win an MLS Cup and that has to be the goal.”
Phil Neville shares that goal and believes that with the foundational support of coaching staff including Miles Joseph and Liam Ridgewell, and bringing in fresh players to complement existing players like Evander and Santiano Moreno, he will be able to get there.
If he did not realize the magnitude of work that will be required of him to win over the hearts and minds of the fans, he does now. There were moments when the gravity of all the attention to the negative and heated response seemed to weigh on Neville.
His mood lifted when talking about coaches that inspired him and the potential to build off of last seasons’ late run. The press conference ended with Neville reflecting on lessons learned from his time coaching Inter Miami and England’s Women’s team and how he’ll apply those lessons to his new role as the Timbers head coach.