Mark Sampson became the England Women’s Manager in December 2013. In his four years at the helm of the Lionesses, the Welsh coach has lifted the team into a position as worthy challengers for top honours.
In only two years, Sampson engineered a Semi-Final place for England in the 2015 World Cup in Canada. It represented the best showing of an England team – male or female – since 1990. After losing to Japan at the penultimate hurdle, England’s women then defeated Germany to finish in a fantastic 3rd place.
Hopes were inevitably high for the recent Euro2017 tournament after such a wonderful run.
Could Sampson prove that this is the level that his charges are at? The World Cup drew in amazing viewing figures – both on TV and spectators in the grounds – and the interest level was growing in female football.
Euro2017 then took it to another platform entirely. Terrestrial TV picked up the rights to the competition, giving the chance for so many people to watch events unfold, and it paid off.
England’s women played marvellously as they again made their way to the Semi-Final stage – this time falling to an impressive Netherlands team who were playing in their home country.
It was another wonderful display for Sampson and the girls, but it was again a tumble just before the biggest of all stages. Whilst the Semi-Finals twice in consecutive major tournaments represents a huge achievement – it leaves one question;
Do England have what it takes to win a big competition?
On first appearances, the answer would be an emphatic yes.
England have defeated both France and Germany recently, and both nations are powerhouses of women’s football. A win in the knockout stages of the Euro’s and a World Cup mean Steph Houghton and co are more than capable of keeping company with the best in the business.
There is a confidence within each and every one of the squad, cultivating a mentality that gives this team that surety on the pitch that all great teams have. The respect shown by each member of the squad is reciprocated unequivocally – and this has been the foundation for the improvement shown.
They have beaten the USA, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden in recent years. They have been hobnobbing with the elite for the last two years, and the strength of the WSL means that England should have enough resources to stay at the top table.
Which is of paramount importance. With Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea Ladies all recruiting top talent, it means the youth at each respective club will both benefit from training with these superb players, but they will also work harder to force their way through the enhanced competition for places.
The youth at each club will be responsible for picking up the baton left by the current pride of Lionesses, and they have one hell of a job to fulfill.
Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton, Alex Greenwood, Demi Stokes, Millie Bright, Isobel Christiansen, Jade Moore, Jordan Nobbs, Karen Carney, Toni Duggan, Fran Kirby, Nikita Parris and Ellen White are the players who will carry the team forward to the 2019 World Cup – with all of the above being in their 20’s. There is the small matter of attempting to replace some real quality in the squad though.
Jodie Taylor, Fara Williams, Jill Scott, Jo Potter, Casey Stoney, Alex Scott, Laura Bassett, Siobhan Chamberlain and Karen Bardsley are all 30 or older, and whilst some may still be at the pinnacle of the game, they will not represent the future of England Women.
With Steph Houghton and Karen Carney both 29 as well – how do England go about replacing the experience that 1036 caps brings?
More importantly, who will take the reins after Sampson?
England really do have some bright talent shining through. Millie Bright, Fran Kirby, Demi Stokes and Lucy Bronze will all be cornerstones of the side in years to come, and Jordan Nobbs is only going to get better, which is a scary prospect for opposing nations.
Do the WSL youth facilities and staff have what it takes to produce and replace what has already been?
Was this the ‘Golden Generation’ that should have perhaps achieved more than they did?
This is definitely the strongest squad that an England Women’s Manager has had to call upon, but in terms of achievements, it could be looked at another way.
The Euro 2009 Final and the last two Semi-Finals may not have garnered a ticker-tape parade and winners medals – but it has supplied the growth in the sport that it so badly warranted. The WSL now attracts talent such as Carli Lloyd and the cream of the Netherlands. It also can now look forward to appropriate levels of TV coverage thanks to a new deal with BT Sport, which in turn means better levels of funding for the League and its participants.
What has been engineered has meant that the England Lionesses have a fighting chance of glory in the future. The respective new manager’s charges have put the sport firmly at the eye level of a bigger audience. It means that young girls will seek a career, rather than see it as just a hobby.
The Euro2017 defeat to Netherlands may have smarted, but it is just a service station on the journey. England Women are not finished yet.