FA Dispatch: Crunch Time

logo of The FA

Tidbits from the England Women’s National Team, the FA Women’s Super Leagues (FA WSL), and behind-the-scenes looks into women’s football in England, both on and off the field.

Crunch Time

It’s crunch time for England’s youngsters this winter with game time at the top clubs beginning to decrease as clubs spread their budgets thin while bringing in international stars or trying to snap up the best of what Mark Sampson’s Lionesses currently have to offer.

If you’re Georgia Stanway, Keira Walsh, Nikita Parris, or Abbie McManus, you can rest easy knowing 95 percent of Manchester City’s squad is British and manager Nick Cushing has a clear ethos directed toward nurturing the brightest stars we have between our coastlines.

At other clubs, the decision for young players is more complicated. Next season represents a new start for women’s football and the FA WSL and anyone still a teenager has to be looking toward the 2019 World Cup as a realistic chance of a first major tournament. With all signs pointing to a not too changed squad from the last World Cup for Sampson at the Euros next summer, there should be some spots opening up rather soon for the next generation.

When the first ball is kicked in France in just under three years time, Laura Bassett will be 35, Alex Scott will be 34, and Casey Stoney will be 37. In midfield, Jo Potter will be 33, Jill Scott will be 32, Fara Williams will be 35, and Katie Chapman will just be turning 37. Attackers Gemma Davison and Karen Carney will also be into their 30s and the realization is this current squad will be heading toward the end of an era in the next few years.

The Next Gen squad boasts quality players such as Hannah Blundell, Jemma Rose, Gemma Bonner, Drew Spence, Beth Mead, and more who are ready to step up and the Under-20 squad announced on Tuesday shows what there is to be excited about. The likes of Leah Williamson, Carla Humphrey, Keira Walsh, Katie Zelem, Rosella Ayane, and more are all potential England internationals in waiting and the talent doesn’t end there. Mayumi Pacheco, Chloe Kelly, and others are well thought of in the U-19s while people are already discussing the likes of Stanway and her U-17 teammates Hannah Cain, Alessia Russo, Lotte Wubben-Moy, and Co.

But those at Arsenal, Chelsea, and other FA WSL 1 clubs now face a big decision: pursue the dream to play for clubs many of them have grown up at or move elsewhere to find first-team football and a better shot at a senior England cap. Beth Mead has found starring at a smaller club doesn’t guarantee you anything, Beth England has flourished since shining in WSL 2 with Doncaster Belles while Fran Kirby went to the 2015 World Cup without a single first-division game under her belt.

Chelsea’s Jenna Dear broke away from the current champions to play regularly at Everton in WSL 2 while Ayane and her other Chelsea teammates Millie Farrow and Jodie Brett have once again been loaned out. Arsenal’s Carla Humphrey moved to Doncaster to get a regular shot at 90 minutes while Williamson could have gone elsewhere on loan until an ankle injury put her season on the back foot.

At both club level and with England, Williamson has found herself playing literally anywhere but her actual position. With the U-19s, Mo Marley regularly deploys her at right back while the U-20s also now have her listed as a center back and she’s even been used at left back for Arsenal over the last year. Although no youngster is guaranteed regular minutes at any WSL 1 club, they shouldn’t fear a move down to WSL 2 in the pursuit of game time.

Several of those young players could make it at a club like Manchester City given the chances handed out to the right English talents, but there are no guarantees. The Spring Series offers the perfect chance for players to go out on loan, play regularly, and then make a decision before the first winter season begins next September. Budgets aren’t big below the big four and there’s no doubt any one of Birmingham, Sunderland, Notts County, Reading, Doncaster, and the promoted clubs would relish the chance to blood such talented young players into their teams without having to splash the cash.

They now face a tough mental battle between heart and mind, between fighting for a spot in the right position at the club they love, or moving away to enhance their career. When the 2019 World Cup rocks up, any one of Williamson, Walsh, Ayane, Humphrey and Co. could be in Mark Sampson’s squad, but if they don’t find some way of regular football in the next year, they’ll find themselves looking over their shoulders instead of looking ahead at those moving aside.