LYON, France — One of Phil Neville’s first encounters with Megan Rapinoe left a mark.
He’d just taken over as manager of the England women’s national team and was at the 2018 SheBelieves Cup in the United States. A ball bounced on the touchline and he went to catch it. Rapinoe’s studs went right through his watch. Neville has admired Rapinoe ever since.
“She’s not repaid me back yet for that Apple watch,” Neville joked. “And what I liked about it, she didn’t say sorry, she just got on with it. She’s a winner.”
Now he’ll face Rapinoe again in a game with much more at stake than a watch. The United States and England will play in a World Cup semifinal Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET.
Neville is confident his team can handle the reigning champion U.S., despite its lethal attack that features Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, who both are tied with England’s Ellen White for the most goals scored in the World Cup with five.
When asked during a Monday news conference whether Rapinoe or Morgan posed a greater threat to England’s defense, Neville launched into the Rapinoe-and-the-watch anecdote and then continued to praise the 33-year-old whose stellar play, pink hair and strong beliefs captured the world’s attention.
“I like the individuality both on and off the field, and I actually think she’s a world-class footballer,” Neville said. “And if you think about the left-hand side of USA and the right-hand side of England, I don’t think you’ll get many better left and right sides in women’s football.
“We want to play against the best players. Alex Morgan, Rapinoe. …There’s brilliant players on this football pitch.”
Rapinoe stands out. That same individuality and flair that won over Neville also garnered criticism from others, most notably president Donald Trump.
When asked about Rapinoe’s political stands, Neville said he respects her for standing up for what she believes in, even though he prefers to stay out of politics.
“I admire people that have personality and character. I admire people that stand up for what they believe in and with strong values,” Neville said. “So, yes, I admire Megan Rapinoe for standing up for what she believes in terms of a lot of things — the fight for equality, the fight for diversity and inclusion that she obviously fight s alot about and campaigns a lot about. So, I admire that.
“Me, personally, I would never get involved in any political issues. I’m a football manager, don’t know anything about politics, don’t like it when politicians get involved in football. So, I think it’s sometimes just stay in your lane, from my point of view, but if you’ve got views, if you’ve got values and you want to air them and you’ve got a platform to air them, I admire people that all stick their head above the power pit.”