England Women

Katie Zelem unlucky to miss out on England's final Euro 2022 squad

Jamie Spencer
Katie Zelem was in the provisional England squad but missed the final cut
Katie Zelem was in the provisional England squad but missed the final cut / Charlotte Tattersall/GettyImages

Of the five players that were cut from England’s Euro 2022 squad this week as Sarina Wiegman turned her provisional list into the final version, veteran former captain Steph Houghton has grabbed the headlines. But Katie Zelem can perhaps count herself most unlucky to miss out.

The Manchester United captain had a strong season at club level. She scored seven goals in all competitions (five in the WSL), got five WSL assists and it was actually only Arsenal’s Beth Mead (64) who created more chances in the league than Zelem – 43 in 22 games.

At one stage, the set-piece expert had scored three goals direct from corners in a run of just two games, something United boss Marc Skinner referred to as the ‘genius of Katie’ – the vision to see it and the ability to put the ball wherever she wants to.

At international level, she had consistently been in and around the Lionesses setup for the best part of two years. Having been an England regular at junior level, Zelem has established herself as one of the WSL’s top central midfielders since United’s promotion in 2019 and received her first senior England call-up from previous boss Phil Neville in the autumn of 2020.

Zelem has been named in every squad since Wiegman took charge last autumn for internationals in September, October, November, February and April, until agonisingly missing the cut now.

Her place in the 28-player provisional list was to be expected, arguably unlike club-mate Lucy Staniforth whose inclusion was somewhat surprising and out of the blue.

But with competition for places in the final 23 so fierce and Zelem largely limited to a place on the England bench despite her call-ups – she didn’t make her debut until November and was one of only two players who didn’t get on the pitch at all in February’s Arnold Clark Cup – her omission at this stage was ultimately perhaps inevitable in the circumstances.

In contrast, United colleagues Ella Toone and Mary Earps have both been consistent starters under Wiegman and would be expected to have key roles at the Euros. Meanwhile, Alessia Russo grabbed a record-quick England hat-trick in November and is gunning for Ellen White’s place longer-term after considerably outscoring the Manchester City veteran during the WSL season.

A handful of factors ended up working against Zelem. Her lack of senior international experience compared to 156-cap Jill Scott made the veteran an obvious pick, while Leah Williamson, typically a centre-back at club level, is listed as a midfielder, further flooding that area of the pitch.

Fran Kirby also returned to fitness after overcoming a fatigue problem, while the decision to bring forward Chloe Kelly back into the fold following her recovery from long-term injury for an additional option up front also limited the capacity for another midfielder, especially with Williamson offering extra depth there. That unfortunately worked against Zelem as the marginal places disappeared.

Still just 26, the blow of missing out on Euro 2022 is only a blip for Zelem. There will be fresh opportunities in the autumn with an eye on the 2023 World Cup. If she continues to perform for Manchester United as she has done, her time with England will come yet.

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