Arsenal forward Beth Mead is the highest profile casualty of the first England women squad of 2021, having been ruthlessly left out by new interim manager Hege Riise, who cited a scouting report on the player that came back ‘not that good’.
Mead has scored eight times in 25 appearances for England since becoming an international regular in 2018, including two goals at the victorious 2019 SheBelieves Cup. She was well liked by former boss Phil Neville and has been a star at club level for a number of years.
Mead’s numbers in the Women’s Super League this season have been decent – three goals and six assists, the latter placing her third overall in the league – but Riise is clearly seeking more. The reality is that Manchester City’s Chloe Kelly is a similar kind of creative goalscorer and has produced more – six goals and eight assists, having played in only one WSL game extra.
It highlights the level of stiff competition for places in the England squad, which can only be a good sign approaching the delayed European Championship on home soil next year.
It also sends a clear message to Mead and anyone else that they have to really be on top of their game to be selected and that no one will get away with being picked on reputation, which has been a longstanding criticism of the England setup spanning several previous managers.
From having a coach like Neville, who was specifically brought in to impart confidence and a winning mentality but had virtually no experience as a manager and had never worked in women’s football, Riise is as experienced as they come at the top end of the women’s game.
Not only was the Norwegian revered as a world class player during her own career, winning the 1995 World Cup, she has a real breadth of coaching experience.
Riise previously worked as a coach in the USWNT setup in the early 2010s and was later successful over a number of years at LSK Kvinner in Norway, which led to a Best FIFA Coach of the Year nomination in 2020 alongside next permanent England boss Sarina Wiegman.
In naming a relatively small 20-player squad, Riise also saw fit to leave out other experienced players like veteran goalkeepers Karen Bardsley and Carly Telford in favour of younger emerging talents.
That uncapped Manchester United pair Millie Turner and Katie Zelem didn’t make the cut, despite having been included in England training camps earlier in the season and being key to their club’s WSL title challenge, again highlights the fierce competition for places.
The upcoming friendly against Northern Ireland later this month stands to be England’s first game in almost a year after friendlies against Germany and Norway scheduled in October and December respectively were cancelled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The pandemic has seen Nikita Parris, based in France, understandably left out because Lyon would not release her due to travel risk. Rachel Daly is re-joining Houston Dash this year after a West Ham loan but is included because she has continued training in England since her exit was confirmed.
20-player England Women squad to face Northern Ireland on 23 February
Goalkeepers: Hannah Hampton (Birmingham), Sandy MacIver (Everton), Ellie Roebuck (Man City),
Defenders: Millie Bright (Chelsea), Lucy Bronze (Man City), Rachel Daly (Houston Dash), Alex Greenwood (Man City), Steph Houghton (Man City), Leah Williamson (Arsenal), Lotte Wubben-Moy (Arsenal)
Midfielders: Jordan Nobbs (Arsenal), Jill Scott (Everton), Georgia Stanway (Man City), Ella Toone (Man Utd), Keira Walsh (Man City)
Forwards: Bethany England (Chelsea), Lauren Hemp (Man City), Chloe Kelly (Man City), Fran Kirby (Chelsea), Ellen White (Man City)
A second friendly of the year has been arranged against Canada in April, for which a squad will be named nearer the time. Wiegman, who remains Netherlands coach for now, will officially take over in the autumn once she has led the Dutch squad at this summer’s Olympics in Japan.