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When England welcome the USA to Wembley on Friday night we are in for a treat. It is a great match-up and a great opportunity for England to get a measure of where they are, even if everything doesn’t go to plan against the world champions. Of course, they’ll want to win, but draw or lose and there is time, before the World Cup kicks off next summer, to say: “OK, we’ve got time, let’s work on this.”
I’m fortunate enough to have played against the USA at international level with England and to have played alongside many brilliant members of the US women’s national team at club level in the States.
When I played against them there was 100% a fear factor there. There was such a high level of respect for what they’d achieved as a nation in the sport. They were the elite. They were the pioneers. In our game, they were the ones leading the charge and everyone else had to try and catch up and match it.
In the quarter-final of the 2007 World Cup in China we lost 3-0. It was always a really tough game against the USA. They had so many good internationals and such a wide pool of talent. We were competing against players who had more resources available to them while we were amateurs, working hard to try to compete on a physical level. That was always our priority, trying to get as fit as we could to match the intensity of their game.
Even then they were household names. Heather O’Reilly, Carli Lloyd, Christie Rampone, Kristine Lilly – the media would reference players like those and that built the intimidation. They had so much more exposure than us and they reached the latter stages of major competitions time and time again.
What’s exciting now is that I do think that fear factor has gone. England’s Euro 2022 win – and the team having proved they can compete against the best in the world – has given a sense of belief that is shifting that mentality. English football has gone from amateurism to a professional game. These players experience pressure and expectation in a way that many players in past generations, in my generation, didn’t. Now we have an England team that are fully supported in their bid to be complete professionals.
In 2009 I swapped Chelsea for Sky Blue. I stayed in the US for three years and I got to understand the American psyche, culture and mentality that has become so synonymous with the women’s national team. When you experience that you really get to understand why they are a dominant force in women’s football and why they are winners.
The biggest learning was that it’s OK to be yourself. Everyone’s aware of their social surroundings to some extent but I played with players who just didn’t care what people thought of them. It was: “This is me, take it or leave it, I believe I’m the best, I’m good enough and I’m not afraid to express that.” They had that aura about them that, to those on the outside, could be perceived as arrogance but the reality is it’s a cultural difference.
We’re so inward – don’t show that you’re confident, don’t show that you believe in yourself – whereas they just outwardly project that belief, and that is what helps create that fear factor and intimidates the opposition. It also meant that I always had the feeling that I couldn’t rest. You go to training and it’s not like you could just chill out, because there’s literally someone right on your shoulder going: “I’m going to take your spot because I’m doing more than you in this area, that area, this area.” That’s the part that I really respected and admired.
So much of football is in the mind. Everyone can physically do things, they wouldn’t be there otherwise, every player can probably technically execute most things, but the belief and that autopilot mode, that’s what you want to see from players.
That only comes if you give them space and you cultivate that environment that allows them to feel free, to make mistakes and to be creative. That’s what Sarina Wiegman has instilled within this England team: they know who they are, they know what they’re about and they know how to play in and out of possession. They’re almost like: “Come on, we’re England, we’re going to take the game to the opposition, you try and stop us.” And to have that kind of feeling is so powerful.
“Systemic abuse”: A year-long investigation has found abuse and sexual misconduct in the NWSL “had become systematic” and US Soccer has said it will immediately implement reforms as a result. The former deputy US attorney general Sally Q Yates was appointed by US Soccer to undertake the investigation after allegations against former North Carolina Courage manager Paul Riley triggered waves of further allegations across the sport. “Our investigation has revealed a league in which abuse and misconduct – verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct – had become systemic, spanning multiple teams, coaches, and victims,” the report detailed. “Abuse in the NWSL is rooted in a deeper culture in women’s soccer that normalises verbally abusive coaching and blurs boundaries between coaches and players.”
Spanish chaos: Spain manager Jorge Vilda has left the 15 players who staged a mutiny against his tenure out of the squad for the games against Sweden and the USA. The 15 had declared themselves unavailable for selection and alleged that playing under Vilda was impacting their “emotional state” and “health”. The national federation responded with a statement which said that the players would not be able to return to the fold unless they “admit their error and apologise”.
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