English women's soccer targets titles, player development

ROB HARRIS
·3 min read

LONDON (AP) — England’s soccer leadership has a couple of priorities for the women’s teams.

Most immediately it’s deciding on a coach for the Olympics next month and whether Phil Neville should lead the British team in Japan.

Then there’s an expectation that Neville’s England successor, Sarina Wiegman, wins the European Championship in 2022 or the World Cup a year later.

But the English Football Association also has to think about long-term objectives and getting more girls to play the game from a young age.

So in a new four-year strategy called “Inspiring Positive Change,” the FA is aiming for every girl aged from five to 11 to have equal access to football at their school or club. They also want to create more ways for aspiring players to access clubs.

For the third season, England is home to Europe’s only fully professional women’s league, which is subsidized by the FA but is proving increasingly attractive to foreign broadcasters buying rights.

And England has become one of the most competitive international sides, reaching the semifinals of two consecutive World Cups and a European Championship.

The next edition of the Euros is on home soil in 2022 after being delayed by a year due to the pandemic.

Neville, whose side lost the 2019 World Cup semifinal to the United States, is staying around as England coach for the chance to win the continental title at Wembley.

And he’s not even certain to be getting the chance to go to Tokyo with the British team before Wiegman takes charge next September after leaving her job with the Netherlands.

“We will make that call and announce in November,” Sue Campbell, the FA director of the women’s game, said on Monday. “We, of course, want to win a major tournament. But to do that, we don’t want to just win a major tournament once. We want to continue to win a major tournament for years ahead."

The FA also wants to instil a tactical approach in its national teams, having analysed the development by the U.S., France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and Spain.

“We’ve looked in depth at what they’re doing and we want to develop a way of working, a style of playing that we believe will make us successful in 2023 and beyond,” Campbell said. “We’ve looked at everything from how we want to defend and how we want to move forward and how we want to transition from defense to attack."

The profile of the women’s game in England has been enhanced in recent weeks by the arrival of American World Cup winners, including Tobin Heath and Christen Press, who scored their first goals for Manchester United on Sunday.

The Women’s Super League is still operated by the FA but it would be willing to cede control for another body that could enhance its development.

“We’ve made it very clear as an FA we have no long-term ambition to hang on to the league for the sake of it,” Campbell said. “But we’re very committed to make sure that when it does step away, we’ve done all the due diligence necessary to make sure this remains healthy and sustainable.

“It will move, I’m sure, in the future, but we don’t have a timeframe and that board will make that decision.”

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