Mary Earps says it’s sweeter second time round. The bubbly Manchester United goalkeeper won eight England caps between 2017 and 2020, but has since gone nearly a year and a half without earning another. But Earps is back in now that the Dutch manager Sarina Wiegman has replaced Hege Riise as England manager. For Earps, there is more jubilation than there was when she was first called up in 2017. Half-stunned, she phoned her parents straight away to tell them she was heading back to St George’s Park after an unintentional sabbatical.
England host the European Championships next summer and so qualify automatically. However, qualification for the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand begins this month. England face North Macedonia and Luxembourg towards the end of this week and the beginning of next. And with Latvia, Northern Ireland and Austria making up their qualifying group, Wiegman’s side are expected to top the group at a canter.
Earps, though, is eager to keep her tunnel vision a little more short-term. “It’s a case of just focusing on each game,” she told EnglandFootball.org on Tuesday. “I’m coming back into the environment for the first time in a while. I just want to help the team prepare to help us to win.Embed from Getty Images
“It’s new in many ways. There’s going to be different messages, different styles of play, involved under Sarina. So it’ll be absorbing all of that and just taking it game by game — not thinking about topping the group, not thinking about all of these things. It’ll be: ‘What are we doing individually?’, ‘What are we doing as a team?’, ‘How are we going to win?’, and ‘How are we going to win in a positive way?’. Playing good football and striving towards the future.”
None of the England team have worked under Wiegman before. But the Dutch coach assumes the role having made a name for herself first as a player where she was the first male or female from the Netherlands to win 100 international caps, and then as the manager who led Holland women to their maiden major title with victory on home soil at Euro 2017. Earps gets the feeling she brings the required pedigree to make a success of the Lionesses job.
“I’ve met Sarina over the last couple of days. She’s been really welcoming and obviously we’ve had a couple of meetings and interactions with her so far. She seems really switched on with her football, she seems really articulate, really intelligent. I can’t wait to work with her hopefully as much as possible and just really learn from her. Her reputation is obviously brilliant. With that kind of wealth of experience in the game and the success that she’s had, I’ll be looking to learn as much as I possibly can. I think she can have a really positive influence on the team and the players we’ve got.”Embed from Getty Images
28-year-old Earps, whose last club was Wolfsburg in Germany, is desperate to earn her ninth England cap this month. Her competition in the squad comes not from usual England No 1 Ellie Roebuck (who is injured), but from Everton’s Sandy MacIver and Chelsea veteran Carly Telford. England’s fixtures against North Macedonia and Luxembourg will be shown live on ITV. It is the latest in a number of broadcast rejigs this season that looks set to hike the ever-growing mainstream TV exposure for women’s football.
“I think it’s huge,” she says beaming. “It’s hugely important. There are players here who have come from even less than what I have, in terms of how I’ve seen the game develop. From somebody who started playing in the WSL at 17, working at a cinema at the time, was doing her A-Levels and working six jobs to afford her football boots and the petrol money to get to Doncaster and back, it’s incredible to see that growth. I think it’s hugely, hugely important that we continue as players and as people who watch the game to keep pushing it forward. It’s hugely beneficial. You can see by the standard of the game, it’s growing all the time. Players are going professional younger. The amount of times I hear from people even my age go ‘I wish I had this at 16,’ that’s exactly what we want.
“When we look back when we’re done, we can watch the game and just be proud of how far it’s come. It’s come a long way; still a long way to go.”