Alex Greenwood says talk of England’s poor recent form is “unrealistic” considering the Lionesses haven’t played since March 2020.
The Manchester City defender was speaking to the media a week before England take to the pitch for the first time since their ill-fated SheBelieves Cup campaign last year, in which they lost to both Spain and the United States. Since then, not only has the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted women’s football no end, but Phil Neville has left his post as manager to take charge of David Beckham’s new MLS outfit Inter Miami. The Euro 2017-winning Netherlands manager Sarina Wiegman will become the Lionesses’ next permanent boss in September following one last Olympics campaign with the Dutch. It makes this February international break England’s first working under their new interim manager, Norway great Hege Riise. An impressed Ellen White told journalists that Riise’s credentials are “pretty insane.”
Her teammate Greenwood sees 2021 as a fresh start for the national team. She told EnglandFootball.org that, “Talk about form when you haven’t played for [nearly] 12 months is slightly unrealistic. I think we’re a different group now, in a different place.”Embed from Getty Images
England are due to finally take to the pitch again on Tuesday 23 February, when they face Northern Ireland in a friendly behind closed doors at St George’s Park. “You can’t speak about form until you actually play games. Maybe after Tuesday I could speak about that,” Greenwood explained. She was confident that despite Northern Ireland winning all four of their autumn 2020 games while England didn’t feature at all, the Lionesses can get back on track by winning the match.
“I believe in the players that we’ve got. We can start as we mean to go on. We’re all focused on the challenges ahead and what’s in store for us over the next 12 months. We just get back on the grass as a team and prepare for this game like we would any other. There’s an expectation. But we also have to be realistic and say, ‘We actually haven’t played together for 12 months.’ It’s not an excuse at all, but we have a lot of work to do under a new manager. We have different ideas; different formations, maybe.”
“The league is in a great place, which can only benefit England.”Alex Greenwood on the WSL
Hege Riise’s first squad as England’s caretaker manager includes no Nikita Parris due to COVID-19, no injured Demi Stokes, and no Beth Mead. The Arsenal star was one of the most unlikely snubs, along with Atlético Madrid striker Toni Duggan. Former Manchester United and Lyon full-back Greenwood is one of nine City players to feature.
The 20-long list of players also includes five uncapped names and three goalkeepers all aged 22 or younger. Greenwood was full of praise for how successfully England’s youth setup is preparing promising young players for senior international football. She cited the ever-increasing quality of women’s league football in England as a major factor.Embed from Getty Images
She said: “I think that comes with the league improving itself. Players [are] getting more opportunities at their clubs, which is massively important. And that’s not just in the WSL, it’s in the Championship as well. The competition at that league is growing every year, which is really, really important. The way I look at it, the league is going in a great place, which can only benefit England.”
Greenwood also believes England’s most exciting youngsters are more ready for the senior game than in the past. “You see the talent coming through — players used to come to England and maybe take five or six days to get used to the pace of the game at international level. I think that’s starting to shift a little bit. You come in, and you can see straight away that they’re really talented and ready to play for the England seniors.”Embed from Getty Images
Riise is expected to give debuts to at least some of England’s new faces. It remains to be seen whether those given match minutes on Tuesday can take their chance against neighbours Northern Ireland and prove Greenwood’s sentiment right.
Like the rest of the team, Greenwood will hope the upcoming fixture can be the start of a new era for England, with changed personnel all round. “We’ll see how it goes on Tuesday and we’ll go from there.”