‘So competitive it is ridiculous’: will US influx benefit England Women? | England women’s football team

When the Lionesses step on to the pitch at St George’s Park for a friendly with Northern Ireland on Tuesday it will have been almost a year since they last played.

At the end of February 2020 Phil Neville was preparing his then England team to face the United States, in the SheBelieves Cup, for the first time since their World Cup semi-final defeat by the all-conquering side.

They lost 2-0 and would finish last in the mini-tournament having scored only one goal – a late Ellen White strike securing a win against Japan sandwiched by the US defeat and a 1-0 loss to Spain.

The decision of six US World Cup winners to swap the NWSL for the Women’s Super League has bolstered the league and given a host of England players the opportunity to play alongside players they have beaten only once (in the 2017 SheBelieves Cup).

For Manchester City’s left-back Alex Greenwood and striker White the arrival of Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle in the summer and Abby Dahlkemper last month has helped lift the air of invincibility around the USWNT and given them rare insight into the mentality of the “serial winners” who are favourites for Olympic gold in the summer.

“Even in training they have high standards, high demands of not just the team but of themselves, which is brilliant,” says Greenwood. “It’s good for the young girls on our team to see what it takes to be as successful as they are. They’ve been brilliant, fantastic people first and foremost but just serial winners and an unbelievable mentality.”

White, who scored the late winner against the US in 2017 and England’s goal in the 2-1 semi-final defeat in France, adds: “They are so competitive it is ridiculous. There is not a time in training when they do not keep score, which can be very frustrating if you are not on the winning team.

Ellen White is fouled by Becky Sauerbrunn in the 2019 World Cup semi-final. Abby Dahlkemper (right) is now a teammate at Manchester City.
Ellen White is fouled by Becky Sauerbrunn in the 2019 World Cup semi-final. Abby Dahlkemper (right) is now a teammate at Manchester City. Photograph: Richard Sellers/PA

“Their winning mentality, their competitiveness, their drive every day, they want to develop, those are the main things I take from them.

“I feel really lucky to be a part of a squad where they are my teammates at the moment and not having to face them, only in training. They are pushing me to be better and hopefully we are pushing them to be better – it is a mutual thing.”

Greenwood, though, urges caution regarding the idea that playing with the US trio could help unlock the secret to their success at international level. “When you go away with your national team, a lot changes,” she says. “You play a different formation, you have different ambitions, I suppose. So maybe we’ll understand them a bit more [from] playing against them, playing with them, their mentality, their way of thinking in certain moments of the game. But when it’s England vs USA, speaking honestly, I think all that goes out the window. To be honest I can’t wait to play them again.”

Making the Team GB cut for the Olympics and being in with a chance of challenging the US there will not be easy. With a squad of only 18 travelling to Tokyo and players from the other home nations in contention, versatility will be a selling point and Greenwood has benefited from injuries and experimentation at City, having spent part of the season at centre-back.

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“I think it does help,” she says. “It’s not something I’ve gone in and said. The positions just fell upon me as I signed for City. [The manager Gareth Taylor] has been brilliant with me, he’s outlined his expectations of me as a centre-back, as a left-back, and I think in our team it’s quite easy to adapt to both positions.”

Greenwood, whose call-up for the World Cup was criticised because she was playing in the Championship with Manchester United and who suffered from a lack of regular playing time at Lyon last season, is thriving. She cannot wait to play for England again.

“It’s been too long,” she says. “Maybe sometimes I take for granted putting on an England shirt. It’s something we should never do. To go 12 months without a competitive fixture has been hard as a squad.”

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