Sarina Wiegman demands calendar change as Leah Williamson earns first England call since ACL injury

England head coach Sarina Wiegman and Leah Williamson during a joint press conference held at Wembley Stadium.
Sarina Wiegman has backed her captain's comments about the scheduling of women's football - PA/Steven Paston

Leah Williamson is back in the England squad for the first time since the knee injury she suffered 10 months ago.

Williamson was one of 37 players from around the globe to miss last year’s Women’s World Cup because of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries alone and, speaking exclusively to Telegraph Sport in January, she raised major concerns about the congested international calendar and the lack of a four-week off-season break.

Head coach Sarina Wiegman has echoed Williamson’s view, saying: “I am very worried about that. What you want, what the players ask all the time too, is ‘Where is rest for us?’ Because they want to compete, we want the players fit and fresh, which means that you always also need rest, a proper rest.”

England will play friendlies against Austria and Italy this month then European Championship 2025 qualifiers in April, across the first weekend in June and again in the middle of July, giving them a busy summer schedule despite missing out on qualifying for this year’s Olympics on behalf on Team GB. Wiegman added: “You need to train in between June and July too, so we have had conversations with clubs. These have been very good conversations, but we still don’t have a solution for that period.

“And I think that Fifa and Uefa need to solve that for the players. Hopefully Fifa and Uefa solve it. When we talk about the calendar from 2025 on[wards], this really needs to be solved. Things really need to be changed.”

Leah Williamson is substituted off after sustaining an injury
Leah Williamson is substituted off after sustaining an injury

However, asked whether she would consider resting some of the World Cup players for any of this summer’s camps, Wiegman appeared to rule that out because of the importance of those qualifiers for the Euros. “I’m not willing to do that ahead of situations, because we want to the best players on the pitch in the squad and we want to win,” she said. “We want to make the chance of winning as high as possible.

“And, if I rest a player while the player feels that she is fit and fresh, they really want to play. So they don’t want me to say ‘Ok, I’m going to rest you’, while she thinks she’s ready to play.”

Wiegman stopped short of confirming whether Williamson would be re-named as England captain – she will speak to the squad first – but it is highly anticipated that the Arsenal centre-back will skipper the Lionesses for their upcoming warm-weather camp in Marbella, Spain.

Millie Bright captained England at the World Cup in Williamson’s absence, but the Chelsea defender is currently absent with a knee injury. On Williamson’s recall, Wiegman said: “It’s really nice. Even though she’s been out for months, her decision-making is really good. The team stepped up [without her] but it’s good to have her back.”

For February’s friendlies, Wiegman has picked a strong-looking squad, with Williamson and Manchester City’s Jess Park returning. But there is no place in the 23 for Nikita Parris, despite the Manchester United forward scoring 15 goals in her past 16 matches for her club.

England squad for European Championship qualifiers

Goalkeepers: Mary Earps, Hannah Hampton, Khiara Keating

Defenders: Lucy Bronze, Jess Carter, Niamh Charles, Alex Greenwood, Maya le Tissier, Esme Morgan, Leah Williamson, Lotte Wubben-Moy

Midfielders: Grace Clinton, Fran Kirby, Jess Park, Georgia Stanway, Ella Toone, Keira Walsh

Forwards: Rachel Daly, Lauren Hemp, Lauren James, Chloe Kelly, Beth Mead, Alessia Russo

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