Alex Greenwood is the first to admit if you rewound the clock to the 2019 World Cup, when everyone still recognized the Manchester City star as the left back she’d been her whole career, even she wouldn’t have envisaged her renaissance at the heart of defense for both club and country.
Since returning to England from a spell at Lyon, Greenwood has become not only a center back for City, but also for the Lionesses, now an almost constant presence in Sarina Wiegman’s back four and rarely seen in her former left back spot.
It’s even more impressive given she was somewhat surprisingly left out of Hege Riise’s Team GB squad for the Olympics last summer, but Wiegman has recognized Greenwood’s top performances at club level in her new role.
“It’s crazy, because I couldn’t see myself playing left back [earlier in her career], so I’ve probably done a full 360,” Greenwood said. “I feel really comfortable in the position. Obviously, it helps in the way we play, that’s massive, the players we have around me.”
After being left out of the trip to Tokyo last summer, Greenwood will admit she is “probably” a bit more grateful to be involved this time around, but the 28-year-old hasn’t simply slipped back in as a squad player, she is arguably now one of the first names on the team sheet.
“I think every competition leaves you a lot more mature as a player. It was a very different maturity experience and being left out, I can see things from a different perspective.
“I got the chance to be a normal human being for seven weeks, which I don’t think you get to have in football often. So, I probably was lucky to go into the season a bit more refreshed than the rest, which I think has done me a favor. In terms of me as a person, I just think I’ve grown up a lot over the course of tournaments.”
She added: “Every tournament has led me in different ways, whether that’s playing or not playing. I come into this one as probably a very different player.”
At 28, Greenwood is now one of the more experienced players in the squad and next week’s European Championships will be her fourth major tournament with the Lionesses, and likely the one with the most expectation riding on it.
Greenwood, though, is now used to it. At the last Euros five years ago, Greenwood was part of a Liverpool side sat in mid-table in the FA Women’s Super League, but since then has captained Manchester United to promotion, won the treble with Lyon, and two domestic cups with Manchester City.
“I think it helps,” she admitted. “When you’re in an environment every day where you’re expected to be successful, when you come here, it doesn’t really change. The level is different in the sense you’re with those players every single day and here it’s just camp by camp, but we’re completely aware of the summer ahead and what we want to achieve.
“If you ask any of the 23 players here, I’d want to say we want to win whether it’s at your club or your country. I think it’s a team full of winners.”
Her attitude is a familiar one throughout the squad. Despite the weight of a nation on them and many pointing to the success of the Netherlands on home soil five years ago, this doesn’t yet look like an England team harnessed by expectation.
A 5–1 over the 2017 champions last week did nothing to dampen spirits among supporters, only raising the roof at Elland Road as England cantered to an impressive win, and Greenwood believes it is a calming influence brought by Wiegman herself.
“Just go and enjoy yourself, that’s one of the biggest things [from Wiegman]. We never really feel like we’re under pressure a lot of the time, she takes that away from us. The biggest thing for me is she just wants you to enjoy playing your football and enjoy the style of play.
“That’s massive in football, it does help you relax and being okay with making mistakes. That’s so important because we’re all going to make them. The way we’re going to play, we’re going to make mistakes, but being okay with that and knowing there’s a gradual step of where we want to get to is important.”
Greenwood is still forging a partnership with Chelsea defender and regular center back Millie Bright, with the pair now seemingly Wiegman’s first choice, with City teammate Steph Houghton left out and captain Leah Williamson being utilized in midfield.
With a partnership growing ahead of the tournament, the defender admitted it’s still “something we have to get used to” ahead of the team’s final warm-up game against Switzerland on Thursday.
“We play in different clubs and we play a very different style of play at clubs,” she said. “But also, very easy, we speak quite a lot about certain situations, we work on things together.
“That’s not just with Millie, it’s with Jess [Carter] and Lotte [Wubben-Moy] as well, who both play center back. We are very different types of players, but it works so it’s a very healthy relationship.”
Greenwood has reinvented herself at the heart of defense for both City and England, after being better known for her marauding forward runs as a fullback and her accurate crossing ability with her left foot, whether it be from open play or set pieces.
While the positional change may only be a few metres to the right on the pitch itself, the shift itself in skill set is a whole other ball game, and Greenwood admitted she has had to change elements of her game to adapt to her new role.
“I can’t just bomb up and down the pitch like I probably used to,” she laughed. “Sometimes, honestly, it’s the temptation to do it, probably more last season than this. It’s taken a lot of work and a lot of coaching, a lot of me to review myself off the pitch.
“Just building relationships with players, I am very lucky that I do have some top players around me, which makes my life a lot easier. I think the biggest thing is I really love playing there and I enjoy it. I feel like I brought the best out of myself and that’s probably why I’m so invested in the position.”
She can spare a joke to finish things off when it comes to the perks of not having to worry about running the length of a football pitch anymore.
“Less metres on the legs! As I’m getting older as well. I’ve timed it perfectly!”
And does she ever get jealous watching Demi Stokes go running off in front of her?