Column: Sampson Shakes Up Lioness Squad

Mark Sampson, England's head coach.
Mark Sampson, England's head coach.

Mark Sampson has given his England side its biggest shake-up in months in a bid to end the goal drought that is currently concerning fans and stopping the Lionesses from having a simple route through to next summer’s European Championships.

Big names such as Toni Duggan and Eniola Aluko will miss next week’s double-header against Serbia, with favorite Jodie Taylor recalled alongside potential debutante Rachel Daly. The 24-year-old is the first player since Taylor last year to be called up while playing outside of the UK, and her impressive start with the Houston Dash in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) hasn’t gone unnoticed. Dash head coach Randy Waldrum said via email he is “proud” of her achievement and added:

“I think it bodes well for her hard work and determination that she shows each and every day at training. I think it’s a great reflection of not only the Dash but the NWSL in general. I truly believe she deserves this opportunity, and I appreciate Coach Sampson monitoring her progress here in the U.S. Hopefully this is the first camp of many for years to come for Rachel as she represents her country. I know she is extremely honored and excited for the opportunity.”

Sampson described Daly as “fitting the profile of a Lioness,” something of which is becoming a key aspect of his decisions and a key question mark for fans who are puzzled over the same players missing out time and time again. There’s very few other ways to explain why an Arsenal player who hasn’t played all season would be called up over an Arsenal player who scored the winning goal in a cup final…

In better news for Aluko, she will be a part of ITV’s Euro 2016 coverage, a groundbreaking moment for women’s football and women in the media as she becomes the first female footballer to be involved in coverage for a major men’s tournament. She’ll be joined by Jacqui Oatley who has already put herself at the forefront of coverage for women’s football in the UK. Her teammate Claire Rafferty is another who has once again missed out on selection and along with Aluko was left on the bench for Chelsea’s cup final defeat two weeks ago.

Sampson has also dropped Jo Potter, Amy Turner, and the experienced Katie Chapman from his squad so 2016 PFA Player of the Year Izzy Christiansen and the tenacious Jade Moore can return from injury-induced breaks. A more welcome decision is the one to include Nikita Parris from the start after she was called up due to injuries elsewhere after England faced Belgium earlier this year. Despite being given no assurances of her future at Manchester City late last year, Parris has taken her chances this season and has arguably been Man City head coach Nick Cushing’s key player.

Once again there has been a clamoring for Sunderland’s Beth Mead to make the squad. During live commentary on Chelsea versus Mead’s Sunderland on Wednesday, Sampson more than hinted Mead would have to work on her all-round game, tallying with quotes from assistant coach Marieanne Spacey several months ago about her finding consistency in her second FA WSL 1 season. Mead is a hugely talented goal scorer but has struggled at times this season to influence games while Sunderland struggles for regular results, and it’s not difficult to see why Sampson values hard workers when you think back to the 2015 World Cup.

While Taylor and Ellen White among several others may not have the goals Mead does over the past 12 months, their contribution to Sampson’s way of thinking and tactics can’t be underestimated, and the same goes for the likes of Jill Scott and Jordan Nobbs. Though fans will be confused by some of the league’s top scorers constantly failing to miss the cut, it’s entirely fair to wait for a young player to develop her game, which Mead will with time. It’s about the team and Sampson has done enough so far as manager to be given the benefit of the doubt, poor performance at the Euros will change that though.

As has been almost normal protocol since the World Cup, players included in the squad only found out an hour before the list was released to the public — those dropped were told at least 24 hours in advance — and given the announcement time, Daly only found out when she woke up in Houston on Wednesday morning. Some players found out they weren’t in the squad face-to-face; one had to rely on information from her teammates to discover she wouldn’t be selected.

Although privately some players may feel deflated by Sampson’s decisions to leave them out, the majority know how important Sampson’s ideas were in winning a bronze medal in Canada last year. Under a different boss it may not have been so easy to pick themselves up off the ground after Japan to beat Germany three days later. Having a squad of 23 players who got along and were willing to fight for each other and get each other through tough times enabled the Lionesses to create history — that can’t be devalued. While individual quality is crucial in places, a solid team is much more important in tournament football.

Elsewhere, The FA also have hopes to host another women’s international at Wembley this year, the next opportunity will open up between the dates of August 5th and 21st, although as I understand it, The FA is currently looking at playing the match in the final international window at the end of October.

In the mean time, some players go away to refresh over the weekend before the squad meets up at St. George’s Park on Sunday night for a double-header that can temporarily silence critics and almost certainly ensure England will go to the Netherlands.