Atletico Madrid forward Toni Duggan says England’s players are still behind Phil Neville as coach and has warned against complacency and the need to improve standards in the women’s game.
In an exclusive interview with AFP, Duggan also talked about her burgeoning friendship with Kieran Trippier and the upcoming reunion with Manchester City on Wednesday in the last 16 of the women’s Champions League.
Duggan and Barcelona lost to all-conquering Lyon in the final in May and the 28-year-old admits she would still be hurting had she not left the Catalans for a fresh start at Atletico in the summer.
Yet in between there was further heartache at the World Cup, where England were beaten in the semi-finals by eventual winners the United States and Neville has come under scrutiny since, during a run of one victory in six games.
“It’s been a lot to take in after the World Cup, maybe this is a transition period,” Duggan tells AFP from the training ground of Atletico Madrid’s women’s team in Madrid on Monday.
“I believe in Phil, he’s the coach and it can’t get like the men’s game where you sack the coach after three or four defeats. We have a plan and all the players are buying into it.”
Neville, though, has become prickly in the face of recent pressure from the media.
“Phil has a bigger profile so perhaps he gets more applause when we do well and more criticism when he does badly,” Duggan continued.
“That’s because he’s Phil Neville but our ambitions are the same and we’re all pulling in the right direction.” Duggan is still regaining fitness following the thigh injury that disrupted her World Cup but has settled in fast at Atletico, with a friendly face nearby too in Trippier, who joined the club from Tottenham in July.
“One of us messaged the other when we signed and we’ve stayed in touch,” Duggan said. “We send each other messages when the other one has a good game, to say good luck, well played or whatever. It’s nice to have that.
“I was asking him about Spanish the other day and saying my teacher sometimes tells me things I don’t need to know. He was saying it’s difficult because (Diego) Simeone speaks so fast.”
– ‘Get it right’ –
Women’s football in Spain enjoyed a record-breaking year last season, most notably when a crowd of 60,739 turned out to watch Duggan score for Barcelona against Atletico at the Wanda Metropolitano in March. But when the two sides met again a month ago, Barca’s victory was not even shown on television.
“It was disappointing. Last season there were 60,000 people in the stadium and they can’t even televise the game the next year,” Duggan says.
“If it’s like that, how you do build? How do you progress?” “People talk about equality but it’s not about money, no way. Get the pitches and the facilities right,” Duggan said.
“There’s a danger people think it will just happen but if we want to bring people and sponsors in, how can you do that if you’re playing on a pitch kids wouldn’t play on in the park?”
Atletico have been rocked by coach Jose Luis Sanchez Vera resigning for personal reasons last week, with Pablo Lopez replacing him. “It was a blow I’m not going to lie,” Duggan admits.
“I knew the way the team played and that was what brought me here initially.”
Duggan believes the squad’s togetherness can carry them through against City, who are top of the Women’s Super League but lost to Atletico last year in the Champions League.
“They’re always a contender, I think they’ve had stronger squads but they’ve been consistent,” said Duggan, who played for City between 2014 and 2017 and won the league with them in 2016.
“I won trophies there and if we had kept the group together I believe we would have won the Champions League. It wasn’t to be for reasons I don’t want to go into but it was a shame.”
Duggan is adamant she will play again in England. Could she envisage a return to City? “No, I don’t think so,” she said. “But I’m looking forward to facing them.
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