LYON, France — Count England Women’s World Cup team coach Phil Neville among Megan Rapinoe’s list of admirers.
Two days before Neville’s Lionesses face United States star Rapinoe and the rest of the defending champions with a place in next Sunday’s tournament final on the line, the former Manchester United defender said that he backs the 33-year-old, who was criticized by President Donald Trump last week before scoring both American goals in the U.S.’s quarterfinal win over host nation France.
“I admire people who have personality and character,” Neville said Sunday during his pre-match news conference ahead of Tuesday’s match at Olympic Stadium. “I admire people who stand up for what they believe in with strong values.
“So yes, I admire Megan Rapinoe for standing up for what she believes in in terms of a lot of things, the fight for equality, the fight for diversity, inclusion that she obviously fights a lot about and campaigns a lot about.”
A few minutes earlier, Neville spoke about his first interaction with Rapinoe, which came during the final of the 2018 SheBelieves Cup in Orlando, Florida.
“There was a ball that bounced on the touchline — I went to catch the ball and her studs came right though my Apple watch, and she’s never paid me back for that yet,” Neville joked. “And what I liked about it, she didn’t say sorry, she just got on with it. She’s a winner. I like the individuality, both on and off the field, and I absolutely think she’s a world-class footballer.”
Neville would know. He played 59 times for England’s men’s team and although he never appeared in a World Cup, he did win six Premier League titles and the UEFA Champions League with United before moving into management in 2015. He was named the head coach of his country’s women’s side early last year.
But while Neville backed the openly gay Rapinoe, who was singled out by Trump in a series of tweets after video surfaced of her saying she wouldn’t visit “the f***ing White House” if the Americans retained their title this summer, he suggested that he might have tried to steer clear of such controversy during his own playing days.
“Me personally, I would never get involved in any political issues,” he said. “I’m a football manager, don’t know anything about politics, don’t like when politicians get involved in football. So I think it’s sometimes ‘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 who will stick their head above the parapet,” he added. “And that is why we as footballers and managers have a platform to influence, to influence and to show kids around the world that being a footballer and influencing people and doing the right thing is the right thing to do.”
More from Yahoo Sports: