It’s funny, I think on paper it looks like a pressurized situation, but I don’t feel that at the minute. I’m still finding my way with it. I’m not pretending to know all the answers and maybe it’s because I’m not pretending to know the answers, or pretending to be the most ready I’ve ever been.Leah Williamson
“I was probably the most relaxed,” admitted Leah Williamson when asked about how she felt ahead of her conversation with England head coach Sarina Wiegman on squad selection day.
Not arrogance on Williamson’s part, just an acceptance that as the one chosen to captain the Lionesses into the European Championships by Wiegman herself, her spot was pretty much assured more than anybody else.
The 25-year-old though knows how it feels to be on the cusp and it’s hard to forget this is just the second major tournament for the new captain, and three years ago it was a very different feeling with no previous experience behind her.
“I scraped my way into the last big tournament, so I know how it feels and until you hear those words and you know you’re in the squad.”
Five players had to go through that feeling of knowing they would be heading home, while their remaining 23 teammates step up preparations for next week’s opener at Old Trafford against Austria.
It means new head coach Wiegman has still not lost a game since taking over last year, having now faced her former side, as well as Germany, Spain, Canada, and upcoming Group A opponents Austria and Northern Ireland.
“Sarina knows what she wants and she’s very, very clear about it,” said Williamson. “She is a matter-of-fact person and doesn’t really leave many grey areas, which I think is a real strength.
“Maybe people imagine that a captain doesn’t often talk to the manager. I have small chats and I’ll speak about things that need to be spoken about, but it’s not forced and if she needs any information, I’m here. If not, we just kind of facilitate whatever she wants to do. The team is self-sufficient and she’s so clear about what she wants, it’s working well.”
The Arsenal defender will lead her team out at Old Trafford next week and her role could not be more different to three years ago in France when her sole appearance as an 84th-minute substitute against Cameroon emphasized her role as one of the youngsters within the team.
Now in a role she has familiarity with from her time in the England youth teams, Williamson isn’t being burdened by the armband previously worn for eight years by Steph Houghton.
“It’s funny, I think on paper it looks like a pressurized situation, but I don’t feel that at the minute. I’m still finding my way with it. I’m not pretending to know all the answers and maybe it’s because I’m not pretending to know the answers, or pretending to be the most ready I’ve ever been.
“I’ve got processes in place I’ve been using for the last however long in my career for dealing with pressure and things like that. It’s not like I’ve been put on a pedestal, I’m just the same, it’s just I have extra responsibility. I do feel like I would have given anything to get on the pitch [with England], so I don’t intend to waste a second now not enjoying it.”
Williamson has regularly been deployed in midfield under Wiegman, with Millie Bright and Alex Greenwood doing a solid job in defense, it has allowed the former Dutch international to add more depth and quality to midfield in the form of the 25-year-old.
Admitting she probably no longer “suits” the No. 6 role she grew up playing, Williamson has been used as more of a box-to-box player under Wiegman, regularly making runs into the penalty box, forming a double act with close friend and former youth team compatriot Keira Walsh.
“Keira’s expertise and how good she is on the pitch is incredible,” said Williamson of her teammate. “Playing with Keira and Georgia [Stanway] the other day, they’ve been at Man City and on the same wavelength for so long, so I want to fit into that.
“I also have things I want to bring, and I’ve had conversations with Keira face-to-face where I’ve said to her, ‘Just tell me first and foremost what you need from me.’ But I also do need to pull my weight and it’s not her responsibility to coach me through the game.”
Expanding on her thoughts of playing alongside someone she has played with since was a youngster, Williamson clearly has nothing but admiration for her fellow midfielder.
“Because I’m such a fan of Keira, when I watch her play football — even when I’m involved — I watch where she goes and what she does a lot and it’s incredible.
“Yes, there’s an understanding there and there’s also a level of us being comfortable, so if we need to have a discussion and address something, we do. There’s also a level of trust as well in each other, which I think is an advantage.”
It’s a special time in Williamson’s career. At 25, she’s a prominent member of the club she grew up supporting and the country she calls home.
It’s also a special time for the family that has backed her all the way, with her mum and grandma especially regularly at her games, even travelling all around Europe to watch her, whether it’s been at Arsenal, the England youth teams, or now in the senior side.
The trip from Milton Keynes to Manchester next Wednesday will be relatively small in comparison, but no doubt the most special yet, and Williamson admitted she can never “repay the investment they’ve made in me” ahead of next week’s opener.
“The money, the time and everything,” she said. “I can never repay that other than giving them experiences, whether it’s them coming to the indoor games to watch me or coming to Old Trafford with 70,000 fans so they can enjoy the day and really take it in.
“That’s the only way I can ever pay them back and I’m happy for them that they’re getting to experience that a little more now. When my family came to France [in 2019] I had 10 or more people coming to every single game there yet I played one game. But that doesn’t change anything as they would be just as proud of me and for them to be able to really enjoy it now is nice.”