THE reaction of some England women to being left out of the squad for Euro 2017 was interesting, mainly because it demonstrated that for some people, international football still has value and prestige.
Complaining about omissions and suggesting that the manager has “favourites” is, to quote Monty Python, “stating the bleedin’ obvious”. All managers have favourites and players who they place their trust in. Down the years, form has never been the sole indicator for selection. There have been countless players who have been media favourites who were never called upon for various reasons.
Just cast your mind back to the days when Peter Osgood, Rodney Marsh, Charlie George, Tony Currie, Alan Hudson, Jimmy Greaves, Frank Worthington and others could not get a look in. If the manager didn’t trust you, you had no chance. Sir Alf Ramsey and Don Revie were accused of it and now Mark Sampson, manager of England women, has been tarred with a somewhat similar brush.
One thing is almost certain, Eni Aluko is unlikely to put on an England shirt again and she probably knows it, hence she spoke out about Sampson’s selection process. Her supporters on social media are outraged about her [expected] absence, despite the fact she hasn’t played for England, or spoken to the manager, for a year.
Given that a group of women are on central contracts as members of the international set-up, if you’re no longer part of that exclusive circle, it will – presumably – eventually mean reduced income. So, you can understand some angst over being left out of the squad. But, all things come to an end and footballers of both sexes have to deal with the inevitable passing of time. You have to go with dignity and professionalism.
Just how important is international football, though? It is clear that for the men’s game, the UEFA Champions League has diluted the value of the World Cup and European Championship. International breaks are seen as a hindrance these days not just for clubs, but also for supporters, many of whom don’t like the interruption of the domestic programme. The bloated qualifying competitions do become tedious.
It is arguable that international football is currently more important for the women’s game, not just to help develop talent, but also to showcase the genre in the media. It is always going to be tough to generate strong support for the league competition, although clearly it is slowly on the rise, but the best bet for women’s football is to ensure that the very top level receives the exposure it needs to grow support and to extract better deals from broadcasters.
The last two Women’s World Cups have generated average crowds of 26,000 (2007 drew an average of 36,000 in China) and domestically, the English Women’s Super League is now attracting four figure gates, although interest may have plateaued. In 2016 crowds in the WSL grew by just 1.5%, with clubs like Notts County, Sunderland and Liverpool all declining. The UEFA Women’s Champions League is still only attracting mediocre crowds.
Unlike the men’s game, the most likely avenue to raise awareness and enthusiasm may be in the England team. The FA seem to have done a reasonable job in using the “Lionesses” tag to good effect and the performance of the women’s team in Canada two years ago generated a lot of goodwill and media coverage. The European Championship in the Netherlands offers the opportunity to build on the momentum of 2015 and inject some more public interest in the women’s game. Sampson has 19 of the squad still with him, but he insists that the team will be more robust and fitter. The competition is a classic 16-team affair, which could be very popular in a summer with no World Cup or Euros. England have Scotland, Spain and Portugal in their group.
The England squad includes eight players from WSL champions Manchester City.
Man.City (8): K.Bardsley, L.Bronze, S.Houghton, D.Stokes, I.Christiansen, J.Scott, T.Duggan, N.Parris
Liverpool (3): S. Chamberlain, A.Greenwood, C.Stoney
Notts County (4): C.Telford, L.Bassett, J.Potter, J.Moore
Arsenal (4): A.Scott, J.Nobbs, F.Williams, J.Taylor
Chelsea (3): M.Bright, K.Carney, F.Kirby
Birmingham (1): E.White
One of the big positives that came out of the 2015 World Cup was the attitude and the togetherness of the team – after a dreadful World Cup 2014 in Brazil for England, it was a breath of fresh air. The nation wept with Laura Bassett after her last minute own goal against Japan in the semi-final and the women returned home as heroes. The Euros may not be the World Cup, but another stirring display by England will continue the evolution of Women’s football in Britain, regardless of controversies over Sampson’s squad selection.