Whilst England’s Lionesses bowed out of Euro 2017 on Thursday night to the hosts Netherlands, their young team mates are currently in Northern Ireland preparing for the Under 19 version of the tournament. Rich Laverty explains why Sampson’s side has provided the perfect tonic at just the right time…
Mark Sampson’s squad demonstrates a clear pathway for young players coming through
Euro fever gripped the nation as England Women looked to bring home a major trophy for the first time in history, the first England side of either gender since 1966, but now there is another challenge on the horizon for the Lionesses.
Several members of Mark Sampson’s squad have experienced the stepping stone of youth football that has helped put so many on the path to their current greatness. On Monday, the Under 19 European Championships kick off in Northern Ireland and Mo Marley’s side have every chance doing what Sampson’s team have failed to do; win a major tournament.
With the squad already on camp in Belfast, what they’ve see unfold in the Netherlands should provide every single one of them with the inspiration and belief they need to follow in their footsteps.
Not all of them will make the grade, many will make the odd appearance for the first team as the years tick by. Others will become top players, maybe even centurions, and undoubtedly some will become serial trophy winners for the national side.
The pathway is clear
But it’s not just the levels England are currently reaching that should inspire our next generation of Lionesses, it’s the fact that Sampson’s squad demonstrates a clear pathway to senior football — as do many squads of other nations who have been competing in the Netherlands over the past three weeks.
It was only one year ago that Dutch star Jill Roord scored five goals in the 2016 Under 19 tournament, she’s in Sarina Wiegman’s Netherlands squad for Euro 2017 and featured briefly on Thursday night against England.
In 2015, Sweden’s Stina Blackstenius was the top scorer and set herself on the road not just to Euro 2017 but to a starring role under the great Pia Sundhage at last summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Wiegman’s star striker, Vivianne Miedema, was part of the 2014 tournament. With age groups changing year after year, there’s been plenty of inconsistency from England and several other sides in the competition over the years.
The last time Marley took her side to the final was four years ago, interestingly the last time the senior European Championships were held too. Only Nikita Parris from that squad has made the step up into the senior squad for Euro 2017, but there are plenty more who are surely not far away from a regular spot.
Travelling back in time
It’s 2009 you need to travel back to in order to find the real core of Sampson’s current squad and the proof the opportunity will arise if you’re talented enough. Three months before the senior side would walk out in the Euro 2009 final against Germany, a team which included the likes of Kelly Smith and Faye White, the youngsters grabbed their chance on a summer’s night in Belarus.
They faced a tough Sweden side, a side which included Montpellier’s Sofia Jakobsson (a likely star of Euro 2017 had an ACL injury not ruled her out during one of the best years of her career).
But the England side housed many more familiar names. Lucy Bronze, Izzy Christiansen, Jordan Nobbs, Jade Moore and Toni Duggan all started the final. Duggan and Nobbs scored the goals which secured the young Lionesses a 2-0 win and handed England the trophy.
Demi Stokes would join them in the 2010 final, a defeat to France. However it’s fantastic to see so many members of that team in the side that aimed to make history eight years later. It wasn’t like that for everyone. Chelsea Weston, Remi Allen, Kerys Harrop, Michelle Hinnigan, Laura Coombs and Jess Holbrook were also involved in the 2009 final, and while some will count themselves unlucky not to have more caps to their name, injuries and a variety of circumstances mean not everyone can make it.
The next generation
The group chosen by Marley to go to Northern Ireland this year is one of the most talented squads in years. A combination of youth and experience; an odd phrase to use for a group of teenagers but it’s a group that’s really coming together.
There are those that have been lucky enough to secure plenty of first team football over the past 12 months. Megan Finnigan was a regular in a strong Everton defence, Maz Pacheco took the brave move to leave Liverpool for Doncaster in pursuit of first team action, whilst talented attacking player Alessia Russo did the same, leaving Chelsea for Brighton.
Lotte Wubben-Moy and Anna Patten played every game at the heart of Arsenal’s defence during the Spring Series, whilst superstar Georgia Stanway has been a key part of Nick Cushing’s plans at Manchester City for well over a year now.
They’re not the only ones. Birmingham’s Ellie Brazil played at Wembley in the SSE Women’s FA Cup final just a few months ago, and many of that squad have moved to the US this summer as the next step in their careers.
Wubben-Moy and Russo will be working under one of the most respected coaches in football Anson Dorrance, at the University of North Carolina. The pair will be playing for a team that has kick started the careers of Kristine Lilly, Mia Hamm, Crystal Dunn, Heather O’Reilly, Kealia Ohai and even England’s Lucy Bronze.
While the younger half of the group lack that extra year of experience, they’re coming off the back of a relatively successful, and crucial, campaign in Jordan last year at the Under 17 Women’s World Cup.
England bowed out in the quarter-finals to an excellent Japan side, but drew with eventual champions Korea DPR in their group and beat a strong Brazil side in the decider. The likes of Stanway, Russo, Patten, Brazil, Wubben-Moy plus Ellie Roebuck, Taylor Hinds were all part of that squad and will bring that invaluable tournament experience with them to Northern Ireland.
When Marley’s side play their first game on Tuesday, it will be less than a week since England bowed out in the semi-finals of Euro 2017. But seeing how much attention the tournament got, what more inspiration do they need?