Houghton insists the Lionesses have not taken their eye off the ball in Neville’s final year in charge but they’ll have to wait to prove it after cancelling their friendly with Germany because of a positive coronavirus test for a member of the backroom staff. By Ali Rampling
England captain Steph Houghton has praised the professionalism of her team-mates since it was announced that manager Phil Neville would be stepping down next summer.
The Lionesses have been denied the first opportunity to bounce back from their disap-pointing SheBelieves Cup campaign after their friendly against Germany was cancelled as a precaution due to coronavirus.
Despite the countdown being on to Neville’s departure at the end of his contract in July 2021, Houghton has been impressed with her team-mates’ “world-class” attitude as Eng-land now turn their attention to Norway in December.
“In terms of the professionalism shown by the girls I think they’ve been world class,” the Manchester City star said. “Since the announcement came about the new manager, I think the focus was always on respecting our current manager Phil.
“There’s been no instances from that announcement until now where I can say people have taken their eye off the ball.
“It makes my job that little bit easier that everyone’s been so professional and focused on taking each day as it comes and just enjoying being part of camp again.”
The 11 months prior to Sarina Wiegman taking the Lionesses hot seat will be a transitional period for England. Although 15 members of the 2019 World Cup squad were called up for their most recent camp, seven uncapped players were also selected.
The 28-person squad featured nine players aged 22 and under, in addition to 33-year-old Jill Scott, who is on the cusp of earning her 150th cap. Both Scott and Houghton’s experi-ence will benefit the young players during this time of transition for the Lionesses.
“I’ve been through a few transitional periods with the England team!” Houghton said. “It’s really refreshing. These new players that have come in have thoroughly deserved coming into this squad with their performances at club level.
“A lot of these girls who have not played for England before have probably dreamt about doing it but when it happens it’s the most surreal moment. All the hard work and sacrifices you’ve had to make — it makes it all worthwhile when you pull on your England shirt for the first time.”
With the injection of youth comes an even greater competition for places. However, striker Ellen White believes this is something the team will thrive off.
“Everyone’s shirt is up for grabs and that’s what makes it exciting,” the Manchester City forward said. “In every training session I’m flying around! I want to do everything I can to improve, to win – I’m so competitive.
“We’ve got a really lovely group. They’re always wanting to learn, they’re always wanting to be competitive, to be better.
“For us experienced players, we like being driven, we want to learn, and to develop. They’re always pushing us to get better and better as well as us pushing them to be better because, ultimately, that’s going to make our team better.”
England supporters will now have to wait until 1 December to catch a glimpse of the poten-tially new-look Lionesses team when they play Norway at Bramall Lane.
Although disappointed that his side’s long-awaited return to competitive action has been delayed by a month, Neville insisted there was still plenty gained from the week’s training camp.
“While we all wanted to play Tuesday’s game, this was absolutely the right course of ac-tion,” the England head coach said.
“I know the fans were hoping to see us play again but I am sure they will understand the decision. We have still had a good week of training and are looking forward to getting to-gether next month before our match against Norway in Sheffield.”
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