‘We have a clean slate to build something bigger and better than anything else in America,’ Phil Neville declared during his unveiling at Inter Miami back in February.
‘Not just America but even world renowned,’ he added.
How foolish those bold proclamations look now. Try being the worst team in America. Try losing your last six games by an aggregate score of 13-1. Try having the highest wage bill in the league and winning just two of 12 games.
So much for David Beckham’s ambitious American dream. He’s stuck $40million of his own cash in and yet this is every bit the nightmare he will have dreaded.
David Beckham’s Inter Miami ownership is fast becoming a nightmare as they lose more games
Phil Neville (left) is under serious pressure having won just two of his 12 games and the likes of Gonzalo Higuain (right) need to show a serious improvement if they are to no longer be bottom
Players were booed back to the dressing room after Wednesday night’s humbling 5-0 loss to New England Revolution.
It is the worst defeat in the club’s, albeit short, history and this wasn’t a hard luck story, this was down 4-0 at half-time with what many feel is their strongest available side. This was, as debutant goalkeeper Nick Marsden called it afterwards, a complete disaster.
The word nepotism was thrown around with great frequency when Neville, a former team-mate of David Beckham at Manchester United and co-owner at Salford City, was chosen as the successor to Diego Alonso.
Neville’s spell in charge of England Women was, in the end, underwhelming. He had one SheBelieves Cup to show over four years. Those who follow the Lionesses weren’t too sad to see him go.
And so then came the call from Miami, come down to South Beach and see what you make of the place. Media members in Florida and fans of the franchise expansion team were underwhelmed. It seems their hunch was right after all.
‘Phil Neville was not handed the Inter Miami job. Phil Neville earned the job,’ Jorge Mas, the club’s managing owner, said.
‘The fact that he’s David’s friend is a reality and no one runs from that. Actually, we embrace it.’
What exactly had he done to earn it? Many felt he fell short of expectations with a talented Lionesses team and it was not as if he could lean on a wealth of experience in MLS.
‘The biggest challenge for me as a coach is to come here and and prove to people the foreign coaches can come here and be successful,’ Neville added on arrival.
Rather than Neville serving up slices of humble pie it’s been more of the ‘I told you so’ crowd finding their voice a dozen games into what is fast becoming the season from hell.
The question is how did it get to this? How has it come to a six-game losing streak where the aggregate score is Everyone Else 13-1 Inter Miami.
Beckham didn’t join MLS to be the laughing stock, that much is certain.
In their inaugural season Inter Miami finished 10th in the Eastern Conference, of 12 teams. It was fine, no more than that, as they found their feet under Alves.
But Beckham, along with co-owners Marcelo Claure, Jorge Mas, Jose Mas and Masayoshi Son, wanted to kick on to a new level and so more funding, more players, more goals and more wins. Funny how plans don’t always come together.
Neville’s opening game in charge saw them throw a 2-1 lead at home to lose 3-2 to LA Galaxy.
An unbeaten run of three matches followed – a win over Philadelphia Union as well as draws against Nashville and Atalanta United. It was a solid, if unspectacular, start.
New England Revolution are the best team in the league but it remained an embarrassing night
Inter Miami fans are growing tired of Neville’s tactics and some are already calling for a change
Captain Gonzalo Higuain, the big money arrival from Juventus in 2020 who earns £4.2m a year, bailed them out for a late victory against Cincinnati but if the wheel nuts had not yet come off, they were certainly loose.
What has followed that late, late show by Higuain at the TQL Stadium is six straight defeats. One goal in 540 minutes. Thirteen goals against.
New England Revolution are the shining light in MLS, a model to behold and a set-up to want to replicate. But they were not at their strongest with international commitments in play and so to suffer a franchise-worst defeat was simply unacceptable.
In his response Neville was damning on his players and accepted he has been around the game long enough to know ‘consequences’ land at his door.
‘I wasn’t expecting it,’ he told reporters. ‘The players need to take a long, hard look at themselves, and so do I.
‘We win, we lose together. You will never find me blaming (anybody else). I will take full responsibility for that and ultimately it is my job to make this team better and at this moment in time they are not. That’s on my shoulders.
‘When we suffer a disappointment, we need to make sure that we can recover. That’s what football’s all about – having courage, bravery, not letting your team-mates down on the field.
‘We’re not doing that and it’s something we’ve not done for the last six games. It’s something we have to rectify ASAP.’
And so what about close friend Beckham? Is an awkward phone call or a difficult WhatsApp message telling him he’s sacked on the horizon?
‘I feel their full support – I always have done,’ Neville said of Miami’s owners. ‘They don’t need to tell me about their concerns because I have the same concerns.
‘I’ve been in football long enough and I know the consequences – that’s no problem to me.
‘We’re doing everything in our power, we just need better performances on the field.
Beckham (right) may well have to make a very tough judgement call on his close friend Neville
‘I’ve got great responsibility and I’m accountable for everything that I do. We’re on a run at the moment that puts me under pressure.’
Ironically Neville, in a bid to stop the rot and galvanise his players, vowed it is ‘now or never’ to get their season going with ambition flooding out of the boardroom like a Disney World log flume.
‘We’ve got to put our foot on the gas,’ Neville said. Think you accidentally went into reverse, Phil.
‘Look in the mirror and ask, “what are you doing for the team?” Nothing will deter me from trying to be a success at this football club,’ he added after the 5-0 rout by New England.
‘You can lose games in football, but the manner in which we lost tonight was… we’ve said the word unacceptable in the past – it feels worse than that.
‘It’s a case of playing for your pride, for the badge, for your supporters – I can only apologise to them for what they saw tonight.
Embarrassment has arrived off the pitch too after the Blaise Matuidi deal lead to a record fine
‘It’s them that I feel for, more than myself or the players, because they deserve better.’
Being embarrassed on the pitch is one thing but they are being embarrassed off it, too.
Take the breaching of MLS salary cap rules, leading to a record fine for any team in the division.
MLS has a salary cap of $9.225m for every team’s squad. There is an exception under ‘The Designated Player Rule’, also ironically known as the ‘Beckham Rule’, which allows teams to sign up to three players who are outside the team’s salary cap.
Inter Miami designated Gonzalo Higuain, Matias Pellegrini and Rodolfo Pizarro as the three to exceed the cap.
But Matuidi signed a marketing agreement that added to his total compensation going over the salary cap, placing Inter Miami outside the rules.
A dozen games into the season and Beckham is owner of the worst football team in America
Such agreements aren’t unusual, but MLS rules stipulate that they must be reported to and approved by the league for the purposes of ensuring compliance with the salary budget which Inter Miami did not do. A $2m fine was more than a slap on the wrist.
It’s Philadelphia Union again on Monday night, one of the teams Inter Miami have actually beaten this season.
Standing at 16 per cent, Neville’s win rate so far should be sounding the alarm.
If he crunches the numbers he will know it doesn’t add up. He’s said it once and will need to say it again: it’s now or never.