Coombs’ England call-up for Arnold Clark Cup shows manager Wiegman’s keeping open mind on World Cup squad selection

With minimal minutes for her country but 16 years of senior footballing experience and a stellar 2022/23 season so far, the Man City midfielder’s surprise inclusion is a reminder to players that the national team is a meritocracy and not a closed shop, writes Jessy Parker Humphreys.

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“In my early years, it’s all I wanted. After so long, you have to park that and focus on club [football], otherwise you get disappointed and it starts to affect you negatively. It wasn’t what I was working towards.”

Laura Coombs received her last England cap back in 2015 under Mark Sampson, and despite being called up by Phil Neville and not playing, it is easy to see why the Manchester City midfielder had all but given up on playing for her national team. Yet at 32 years old, and off the back of some of the best months of her career, Coombs is back in the national set-up.

Having arrived at Manchester City in 2019, Coombs is just one WSL start short this season of her cumulative total from the previous three. With the Manchester City midfield exodus in full swing, Gareth Taylor turned to Coombs. She has offered consistency in a team which has experienced a lot of upheaval, whilst also being joint second when it comes to goal contributions for the team.

England’s midfield is arguably the weakest area of Sarina Wiegman’s squad, with very few clear-cut options beyond Keira Walsh and Georgia Stanway. We have previously seen Leah Williamson used there, whilst Katie Zelem continues to be a regular call up without actually making much of an impact (she has played 92 minutes for England this season). Adding an experienced English midfielder who is playing regularly for a team in the top four seems like a no-brainer.

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Just how Coombs will fit into Wiegman’s XI will be intriguing to see, depending on how many minutes she gets at the Arnold Clark Cup. The tournament is taking place in quite a different context to last year when England looked to test themselves against the very best. The average ranking of the teams participating has fallen from 6 to 17. That should arguably give Wiegman a chance to try out new players, but there will also be additional pressure to win all three matches.

At Manchester City, Coombs plays as an aggressive 8, looking to push into the penalty area and not being afraid to get her shot off. In some ways, she has replaced Georgia Stanway in Gareth Taylor’s system, but is not as creative a player as Stanway. However, she does represent a rather obvious back up within Wiegman’s system.

The retirements of Jill Scott and Ellen White also represent a bit of a change in the make-up of the England dressing room. Whilst there are a number of older players in England’s defence, there is a lot of youth further up the pitch. Laura Coombs might not have a lot of England caps but she has been playing senior football for over 16 years. That opportunity to have someone older and experienced in and around the squad might be of as much benefit as Coombs’ football ability.

Ultimately, the call-up for Coombs will also endear Wiegman to the wider pool of English players. It would be easy following the Euros to feel like the squad was fixed with those who had won the tournament, but whether in the call-ups of younger options like Katie Robinson or in turning to Coombs, Wiegman has shown that she is continuing to keep an open mind.

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Having a bigger selection of players to pick from because they genuinely feel like they could make the squad, and so consequently continue to perform at a higher level, only makes life easier for Wiegman and England.

The opportunity to make the World Cup squad was a clear factor in the decisions from Jordan Nobbs, Lucy Staniforth, and Beth England to all move in January. And whilst none of the three made the initial squad (Nobbs was called up following Fran Kirby’s withdrawal due to injury), all three clearly seem to believe that by playing more they have a shot.

England have been remarkably lucky over the past couple of years that they have not had to deal with any serious injuries to their stars in the way that teams like France or Spain have. By pushing a pool of players to believe that they should always be ready because a call-up could come, Wiegman is future-proofing her squad.

Follow Jessy on Twitter @jessyjph

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