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Phil Neville sets new record as Inter Miami complete remarkable MLS turnaround

Jan 22, 2024Jan 22, 2024

Neville failed to impress in his first season with Inter Miami but after a major overhaul, he has led them into the MLS play-offs for the first time since David Beckham founded the club

Phil Neville has finally begun to prove why David Beckham hired him to be Inter Miami's manager after leading the club to the MLS play-offs for the first time.

The Englishman arrived in Florida in January 2021, but failed to impress in his first campaign. Miami lost 17 of their 34 games last term, finishing well outside the play-off spots in the Eastern Conference.

That led to a major overhaul taking place over the close season, with 10 players released and 15 arrivals coming in. The squad also contains Gonzalo Higuain, Blaise Matuidi and Kieran Gibbs, with Neville optimistic at the start of the current campaign.

"We are committed, we don't go half measures. I want longevity in this role. I think there's nothing better than a manager in place for a long time. That's what longevity means and I think that breeds success," he said at the MLS launch event.

"I want to be successful and I want to repay the faith that David and (co-owner) Jose (Mas) have put in me. We had to send a strong statement because the first two years for this franchise weren't good enough, weren't acceptable from the top down to the very bottom.

"So we had to make major changes to get what we wanted. I think last season taught me an awful lot and probably the thing I learned the most was this league is the hardest thing in the world to win."

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At first, it did not appear that Neville had learnt much from his debut campaign as an MLS manager. It took Miami six games to claim their first win in this campaign, at one point sitting rock bottom of the Eastern Conference with the worst record among the 28 MLS teams.

They finally kickstarted their season with a comeback win over New England Revolution, with Neville cautioning his side to keep their feet on the ground. That win came at home, with DRV PNK Stadium becoming a fortress this campaign, with Neville's men collecting 32 points in its 13 matches there this term, the foundation of their success.

"It's the first win of the season, we shouldn't get carried away, we shouldn't be going out on the town tonight. We've got a hell of a lot of work to do, and what I think you saw today was a reflection of what we're trying to build," he said.

"Eighteen players in our match-day squad who were all just fighting for each other. I believe in them and I've never stopped believing in them. Today was just a little glimpse of what we can do."

It would not just be a glimpse though, with Inter going on a run of three successive wins after the victory over the Revolution. The story of their season has been inconsistency, with winless runs mixed in with a series of impressive victories.

Despite the inconsistency, they were well-placed to claim a play-off spot until late August when they lost to New York Red Bulls, Columbus Crew and the Chicago Fire. Neville preached the need for calm heads following the 3-1 defeat to Fire, insisting there was still time for his side.

"We’ve got to remain balanced, we’ve got to think out the next five games, we know there's loads of points to play for, we know it's the team that recovers emotionally and physically and mentally from these setbacks that are going to be successful. It's about the team that keeps their nerve," he said.

That defeat appeared to act as the kickstarter that Miami needed to get their season back on track. Since the 3-1 loss, they have won four successive games, led by the goalscoring form of Higuain, who has hit seven goals in his last five matches.

Amid that form Neville has hailed the striker for 'carrying' his side into the play-offs, though the Argentine will retire at the end of the campaign. Higuain had started the campaign on the bench and revealed that provided the motivation he needed to finally show his talents.

"I've said it before: This league and this club have given me again the desire to play football. I'm living a wonderful year. I've had to work hard. I was a substitute earlier in the year; I had to face situations that I had never faced in my career," he said.

"And I knew that it depended on me, it was for me to take my opportunity and that's what I kept working and the way I've been recognised today is because of the hard work and sacrifice that I've put in."

A spot in the play-offs, the first in Inter Miami's history, was confirmed on Wednesday night with a dominant 4-1 win over Orlando. Higuain scored two of his side's goals to pull the three points clear of their opponents they needed to extend their season.

They can still set up a home tie in the first round of the play-offs by beating Montreal on Sunday's 'Decision Day'. While he hailed his players for their efforts in booking their first-ever play-off spot, Neville insisted there is more work to do.

"I’m proud of them, but this is just the start. We’ve got another big game on Sunday, and I’ve told them I want a home playoff. That's the aim now. There's another big challenge. I’ve told them that if we get a home playoff that teams coming to DRV PNK Stadium more often than not lose," he said.

"I'd say that we're the most in-form team in the league. Four wins out of four, I think. We’ve overcome big obstacles. We’ve overcome so much this year; people writing us off, questioning us, doubts from outside, and the players have just kept going.

"They’re on the brink of something really special. I think we’re nearly there."

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