There are a few names that have been thrown around as potential Lionesses at the World Cup who are not getting a look in.
Les’ try to work out why Phil Neville is not interested in calling them up.
Sophie Baggaley, Aoife Mannion, and Beth England are three names that I often hear mentioned as deserving of caps with Lauren James also thrown in by a certain category of fan.
They don’t seem to get a chance with England, and rightly so for James who is still young. She has a huge potential, as we all know, but the World Cup comes too early for her.
Focusing on the other three players, I looked at football reasons and non-football reasons not they might not be getting selected.
The main reason is one is I always forget – central contracts – which are such a bizarre idea, to be honest.
On the financial side, it is certainly great that the players are rewarded financially and they totally deserve it. On the footballing side, however, it is a huge problem. Those central contracts are a free pass to Lionesses selection. That’s how I see it, anyway.
It is important to note that there is no transparency at all and you have to wonder how they are awarded. The FA recently announced a structural reform for them, but the criteria is hidden.
So if we look at a 23-player-squad, how many non-central contract players are selected by Neville?I would be surprised if there are more than five.
Basically, the Lionesses selection process is not a meritocracy for the huge majority of players. People will certainly point out that players get central contracts on merit, which is true, but with no transparency fans can question both the process and the choices.
Obviously, we know that coaching staff have a lot more data than us fans and they see things in training that justify selection and not just the finished product. That point aside, let’s say three places are available out of 23 and Baggaley, Mannion and England, who are all in form are vying for those.
Why don’t they get an opportunity?
First there is the timing question.
In general you get one surprise call-up with a player coming from “nowhere” and getting a a last minute place on the plane. To me, the player who might be this year’s World Cup surprise call-up is not one of those three players but Lauren Hemp.
With the World Cup so close, it is no surprise new players being not called up.
Let’s look at each player and their position.
Sophie Baggaley is the in-form goalie and a two-times player of the month winner as well as FA WSL save of the year winner. The reality though, is she is really far down the pecking order.
Carly Telford, Karen Bardsley, Mary Earps, Ellie Roebuck, and Sandy McIver are all clearly in front of her. The two youngsters brought in before her is also an indication that they are highly rated and above her.
She is maybe ahead of Chamberlain, who plays in the Championship. Currently an England u-23 international, she has been in the England set-up for years, so the staff know her strength and weaknesses.
Now, we know that the main three choices don’t get as many games as her, as they all play for a big club, and I have no doubt that’s a point that makes a difference. As long as they get enough game time, the training environment and quality is probably stronger at Chelsea, City or Wolfsburg than Birmingham and Bristol. With that logic, players with bigger clubs are more likely to be called up.
Note, I would love to watch those teams’ training sessions to compare them. Having watched a dozen at international and club level, you need to be there to evaluate the quality of work before you can form an informed opinion. Otherwise, it is just guesswork.
Aoife Mannion is also far back in the queue and the only way I can see her being called up is if four centre-backs get injured in the run-up to the tournament.
The preferred pairing seems to be Houghton-Bright. They compliment each other with one being a ballplayer and the other a physically strong defender. They certainly have weaknesses that opposition coaches will pick up.
Then, you have Abbie McManus and Leah Williamson, currently in the USA for the SheBelieves Cup.
Gabbie George was a firm favourite of the staff and regularly called up by Neville. But she recently lost her place to Gemma Bonner, who has had a good run of games at right-back for Man City but who is obviously a centre-back by trade.
So I make Aoife Mannion seventh choice at centre-back for Neville and his team.
Do I think she is individually better than the six players ahead of her? Definitely for two of them, but it is not as simple as just that. Many parameters are involved in the selection process.
First the central contracts, then the fact that players work well together and have been together for a while. Thirdly, the hierarchy in place makes it hard to make changes. As we say in France, coming in” like a dog in a bowling game” might disrupt the defenders’ squad balance.
There were some openings in the squad earlier when Neville took over, then he found the right balance and shut the door. Corinne Diacre has done more of the same since she took over for France.
Again, it has to be said the door is slightly opened as Bonner has overtaken George and could be in contention for the fifth centre-back spot. It’s interesting to note that the big club argument comes in again, but George, who plays for relegation-battling Everton, has been a regular in the squad until now.
Like Baggaley, Mannion has been in the England set-up for years captaining the u23 side. It has to be said that many u23 players don’t make the step to the senior squad, with some even ending up playing for Wales (Ward, Davies) or Ireland (Perry).
If we look at the future, Patten, Fisk, and Wubben-Moy are all up-and-coming youngsters who will be likely called-up one day as they are highly-rated by the coaching staff. If they are judged to have more potential to help England win in 2021 and 2023, they will be selected after the World Cup.
Beth England is another interesting choice. She is the form striker at a big club. She regularly starts for Chelsea, scores goals and therefore ticks all the boxes. But does not get a look-in.
That’s where central contracts are not good in my opinion because selecting one player means eliminating another. If you don’t select a centrally-contracted player, it looks silly to pay someone for a job and not use her.
On a side note, Neville and his staff have brought players as non-playing parties in order to test them while not eliminating anyone from the squad. Hence Hemp being on the trip and not England who would have had to overtake someone who is senior and regular.
Who could that someone had been? Are there many candidates who could have made way for England?
Ellen White, perhaps, who is coming back from injury but has already shown her worth in the League and with the national team with an important goal. Beth Mead who has been in-form for a while, before having a little dip but has scored twice recently, another.
Nikita Parris, who is in excellent form? Toni Duggan who is a regular at Barcelona? Maybe Jodie Taylor who has not played for a long while could have made way for England or Fran Kirby, her Chelsea team-mate whose place she has taken in the starting 11. Kirby actually reminded us against the USA that her creative skills are unmatched in the Lionesses squad, justifying her selection.
There lies the problem. Has England done enough to oust one of the senior players? I mean, giving her a call-up only to forget about her until after the World Cup does not really make sense, unless the staff want to try her as a potential back-up. But because they have brought in Lauren Hemp as a non-playing squad member they already have a tryout player with them.
Overall, what we can assume, from the squad selected by Neville, that he has locked-up the huge majority of his 23-player-squad who will be there in France in June.
There might be a couple of players fighting for the remaining spots, but no-one will be a last minute addition unless a lot of players lose form or get injured.