England legend Karen Carney has suggested that Alessia Russo is likely to continue having a greater impact from the bench for the Lionesses in Sunday’s Euro 2022 final against Germany than if she were to start ahead of established veteran Ellen White.
Russo has scored four goals at the tournament this month, despite not yet starting any of England’s five games, with only teammate Beth Mead and Germany’s Alexandra Popp (both on six) getting more.
The Manchester United striker has appeared early in the second half every time, always replacing White and going on to capture the imagination of the nation with her incredible improvised back heel goal that killed off the semi-final in England’s favour against Sweden.
As a result of her impact and comfortably outscoring White across the five games so far, there have been understandable clamour for Russo to be in the starting XI for the final. But the situation is a little more nuanced and Carney claims it is a system that is actually suiting Russo’s game.
“You don’t change what’s not broken and what Alessia is great at is she’s powerful, strong, clinical and ruthless. But it is very different starting a game, and starting it against Germany, because spaces open up after 60+ minutes when she’s come on [in previous games],” Carney explains to 90min.
“You have to give a lot of credit to the likes of Ellen White, who wear down the defences and do defensive work, which then allows the game to stretch and open up. [White] allows Russo to come on and make that huge impact.
“I think if it was roles reversed and Russo was to start and White come on, the impact wouldn’t be the same. I don’t foresee [Sarina Wiegman] changing it.”
Carney, who racked up 144 senior Lionesses appearances and was speaking as an ambassador for Heineken’s 12th Woman campaign, has no doubt that 23-year-old Russo is the future for England. But, for now, it makes sense to stick with what is working.
“Russo will be part of our future forward line, there is no question about that. But, at the moment, why change what is not broken. For me, as a player, someone would say, ‘Do you want to play 60 minutes, or do you want to come on and make an impact in 30 minutes?’" she says.
“Now that I’ve retired, I would be 30 minutes and make the impact, but every player wants to walk out and sing the national anthem as a starter. But the reality is you want to have an impact and I think it suits Russo coming on with 30 minutes to go when the game is stretched and open.”
Carney has admitted being a little surprised by England’s performances this month, watching the team put eight goals past a good Norway side and easily beat Sweden, the highest ranked European nation in FIFA’s world rankings, in the semi-final.
“They’ve been unstoppable,” she says. “Whatever has been put in their way, they have just absolutely gone through it. They have surprised me and a lot of people. But they have just completely dominated everyone that they have come up against.
“Fingers crossed it will be the same on Sunday. It will be very difficult, the Germans are exceptionally talented. I think we’re up for a really tough game, but I think in terms of the women’s game overall it will be a great spectacle.”
Carney has been particularly impressed by just how much quality there is in the current England squad, with the level of the whole team ensuring there has been no single star.
“Usually in football, you have a star player,” she explains.
“There isn’t a [standout] star player in this England team because they’re all stars. Sometimes you get one, two or three players who are 9/10, but every single player here I could say has been eight, nine, or ten out of ten in all the games.
“It’s been a really unbelievable experience and I was pitchside to give out player of the match after the semi-final and to see it on that level, I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that from an England team before. This team is unique and special, and I think it’s great that everyone can see that.”
Karen Carney is an ambassador for Heineken’s 12th Woman campaign alongside Ellie Taylor, Harry Redknapp, Jermaine Jenas, and AJ Odudu to show fans of all genders how they can show their passion and be the ‘12th Woman’ for the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022.
Heineken is releasing an official ‘12th Woman’ tournament t-shirt, with all profits from sales to be donated to Women in Football, an NFP that supports the women’s game.
The 12th Woman is part of a wider campaign entitled ‘Passion Knows No Gender – Cheers To All Fans’ where Heineken is challenging bias and promoting equality in football, on and off the pitch, across all male and female UEFA competitions.
“For so many years we’ve spoken about the ‘12th man’. It’s been amazing to see people wearing the ‘12th woman’ shirt,” Carney said.
“I always want to do stuff that makes positive impact and this campaign has definitely done that. Heineken have done so much and amplified it, so it has been a really great campaign to be a part of.”