Jill Scott and Gilly Flaherty have had very different England careers given the amount of talent they both possess in their respective positions. Despite a solid career of regular trophies at both Arsenal and Chelsea, Flaherty had to wait until October 2015 for her England debut even though she was called into Mark Sampson’s first ever squad back in 2013.
Three days after Flaherty’s debut, Manchester City midfielder Jill Scott picked up her 100th cap against Australia and has been a key part of the England team under both Sampson and his predecessor, Hope Powell. Both are serial winners and in less than two weeks will go head-to-head with their clubs as the FA Women’s Super League 1 title is set to be decided at the CFA.
Whilst a home match against lowly Estonia should be a walk in the park in comparison, neither Scott nor Flaherty are thinking about taking their foot off the gas despite a resounding 8-0 victory in the reverse fixture a year ago.
“The pressure is off us a little bit now because we’ve hit our aim [of qualifying for Euro 2017] but with the players we have here we won’t be taking Estonia or Belgium lightly”, says Scott.
“We always stay professional,” adds Flaherty. “We want two wins, two clean sheets and to get plenty of goals on the board. The morale is very positive right now, we want to be the best team in the world and we’re all working together towards that goal.
“The aim for everyone is to go out next year and win the Euro’s but first we want to get these two wins to finish off our qualifying group and send a message out to the rest of Europe.”
Scott agrees that team spirit is high and only continuing to grow off the back of the World Cup despite several big changes to the squad in recent months.
“The mood is always positive, especially when the sun is out! We pride ourselves on our team spirit, it’s not like it was 10 or 20 years ago when it was difficult to come into a new group, the transition is so easy now for the new girls and it’s important we get that right off the pitch because everyone saw how important it was at the World Cup.”
Despite such a successful summer in 2015 that saw England walk away with their first ever World Cup bronze medal, boss Sampson hasn’t been afraid to ring the changes and call up new blood that fit into his way of thinking both in friendly matches and for the European qualifiers.
Whilst those changes have seen the likes of Lianne Sanderson, Toni Duggan, Eni Aluko and Katie Chapman drop out of the squad recently, it has given chances to Rachel Daly, Nikita Parris, Gemma Davison and Leah Galton, although the Sky Blue attacker had to miss the recent training camp through injury.
PFA Player of the Year Izzy Christiansen is now a regular member of Sampson’s squad whilst names such as Jemma Rose, Amy Turner, Laura Coombs, Beth Mead, Danielle Carter and Hannah Blundell have all made their debuts or received call-ups to training camps over the past 12 months.
With the potential for several senior players to step away from the international scene next year, the squad could change even more but Scott says it’s simply a testament to how strong the FA WSL is now.
“You see on a Sunday now the standard is getting higher and higher,” says the midfielder.
“Everyone has to perform to their best every game or they won’t get selected for England, we have to push ourselves individually and it’s helped with a lot of clubs going full-time now too. I’m sure it’s giving Mark a bit of a headache but hopefully it’s a good one.”
25-year-old Flaherty echoed her team mate’s sentiment and says the extra competition for places is “healthy” for England.
“Every camp you get called up to you have to perform because you’ve been picked for a reason, it means Mark has seen something in you that he likes.
“We have individual player profiles that get analysed every training session and if we do well it boosts the overall team profile that the coaches monitor. It’s good to have new players coming in because that pushes everybody on, you know you can’t just sit still.”
Player profiles were something that became a key aspect of the recent training camp at the end of August with fitness testing taking precedent during the opening two days the players spent at St. George’s Park.
Every player was put through a rigorous fitness regime to build an individual profile up and whilst it’s not pretty, both players accept it’s an important part of the game.
“It’s good for us to be able to build up our player profiles so Mark and the coaches can see where we’re strong and we’re weak,” says Flaherty.
“For the next 12 months we’re looking solely at the Euro’s but training is always competitive and it’s been to get a few players back that have been injured recently too.”
Scott added,” These weeks are really important because when you’re preparing for a game you don’t get as much time to look at fitness, it’s vital for looking ahead to the Euro’s to see where we are and what we have to work on to be the best team tactically, technically and physically.”
One other change to recent training camps is the introduction of the new Next Gen squad to replace the under 23 team. The setup is the same and Sampson’s assistant manager Marieanne Spacey will continue to lead the team but now it gives opportunities for players over the age threshold to be called up and train alongside the first team.
It has particularly benefited centre-back duo Jemma Rose and Gemma Bonner who have been part of the first two camps whilst the likes of Hannah Blundell and Beth England regularly train with the first team at St. George’s Park.
“The Next Gen changes are really important,” says Scott.
“Every week you go into the FA WSL and see how many good players there are that it’s unfair only 23 get to be called up for England. It’s good that the door has been re-opened for several players who are performing well because it’s another added incentive for them.”
Flaherty also believes the idea is “fantastic” for several reasons but mainly because being too far away from the international setup for a long period of time can be “overwhelming” when you get a recall.
“The Next Gen is massive and it bridges that gap between being a youth player and a full international.
“These players have been exposed to international football but now they get a real idea of what it’s like to be around the first team setup. When it was the U23s they’d only meet up a few times a year whereas now they’re always around the first team and it will make that integration so much easier for them.”
England face Estonia at Meadow Lane on Thursday at 7:05pm before travelling to Belgium to wrap up their Euro 2017 campaign.