Hard work for Eu­ros starts now

The Football League Paper - - WOMEN'S FOOTBALL WEEKLY - By Matt Bad­cock

BE­FORE Canada, Mark Samp­son had to wait for doors to open for him. Now the Eng­land man­ager can stroll right through them as the great and good of the sport­ing world queue up to hear the se­crets of the World Cup bronze medal Lionesses.

“It’s been great to come back,” Samp­son tells Women’s Football

Weekly from Eng­land’s St Ge­orge’s Park base ahead of to­mor­row’s Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships qual­i­fier in Es­to­nia.

“Peo­ple are keen to hear our story and hear what we did that was dif­fer­ent to other teams and in the past. We’re open to shar­ing those ex­pe­ri­ences and con­cepts.

“From my point of view per­son­ally, it’s also given me the chance to speak to peo­ple I prob­a­bly wouldn’t have got the op­por­tu­nity to speak to.

“Just now, strangely enough, I’ve just come from hav­ing a chat with Neil Len­non, Roberto Di Mat­teo and Howard Wilkin­son.

Op­por­tu­nity

“It was just a chat about football, but a year ago I wouldn’t have had that op­por­tu­nity. So it works both ways. Us shar­ing what we’ve got and now the chance to re­ally delve into what other peo­ple do as well.

“It’s nice. You al­ways hope you can have that. When I was a young coach I al­ways hoped one day I’d get the ac­cess to work with ex­cel­lent play­ers, be around top man­agers, learn and share ex­pe­ri­ences. That’s when you learn.

“It’s been great to come back and be in­volved in those types of events and sit­u­a­tions.”

It’s fair to say life was pretty dif­fer­ent BC. Eng­land cap­tured the hearts of the na­tion with their coura­geous per­for­mances on the way to the semi-fi­nal.

Of course there was the heart­break of Laura Bas­sett’s one-in-a-mil­lion own goal, be­fore the re­silience of char­ac­ter to bounce back and beat Ger­many to claim the bronze medal.

When they stepped on the plane to fly home, most prob­a­bly didn’t know what they were about to re­turn to.

A Down­ing Street re­cep­tion, in­vites to the Royal Box at Wim­ble­don and in­creased in­ter­est and at­ten­dances at Women’s Su­per League games.

“The first proper days of camp in par­tic­u­lar have been bril­liant be­cause it’s the first time we’ve got the play­ers to­gether since we all jumped off the plane post-tour­na­ment,” says the 32-year-old.

“It seems a long, long time ago and what we haven’t had the chance to do is just talk about the tour­na­ment. So we’ve been do­ing that. We’ve been shar­ing our ex­pe­ri­ences, pat­ting each other on the back and re­ally en­joy­ing the fact we achieved some­thing very spe­cial.

“We’ve also talked about what’s changed. What’s it like to be at home now? What’s it like to play in front of more sup­port­ers for your club? What’s it like to be recog­nised in the street?”

Samp­son points to the ex­pe­ri­enced cam­paign­ers for the best ex­am­ples of what’s changed.

“I al­ways look at the re­ally ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers,” he says. “The likes of Casey Stoney, Fara Wil­liams and Laura Bas­sett who have been around the game for years and ex­pe­ri­enced ev­ery pos­si­ble thing they can in football.

“They’ve played games with no one watch­ing, had to look around to try and find a team to play for, to now where they’re see­ing lots of media in­ter­ested, lots of peo­ple watch­ing games and play­ing in an en­vi­ron­ment that is a lot more pro­fes­sional than it was.

Legacy

“It’s great for all of them. But one great thing with this group is they all want to keep mov­ing for­ward. We want to make sure this is a legacy that can be sus­tained – and not only a legacy that can be sus­tained, but grown.”

While the im­pact of their per­for­mances in the sum­mer can be seen around the grounds, it’s also no­tice­able among the play­ers vy­ing for se­lec­tion.

“We’ve got the likes of Izzy Chris­tiansen, Dani Carter and Gilly Fla­herty who have come into the squad for a com­pet­i­tive game for the first time,” Samp­son says.

“When they stood in front of the group and talked about what it means to them to play for Eng­land, and what they’ve been through to get to this place, all three of them ref­er­enced the fact they were sat watch­ing those games over the sum­mer.

“It in­creased their mo­ti­va­tion to be part of the team. I’m hop­ing that’s the case for ev­ery other English player out there.

“Whether they’re five years old or 35 years old, hope­fully they’ve been inspired by what hap­pened

in the sum­mer and are now look­ing to take their game to the next level.

“Our player pool is de­vel­op­ing ev­ery year. We’ve got to make sure we con­tinue to grow it – and, from my end, I pick the right peo­ple.”

Prepa­ra­tions for the next stage have been un­der­way for a while. Eng­land made the most of the na­tional football cen­tre’s world class fa­cil­i­ties this week, be­fore fly­ing out to Tallinn yesterday.

But it’s not just been the work on the train­ing pitch that has been the fo­cus of Samp­son’s work.

The way they lead their lives off the pitch and the team val­ues they hold are equally im­por­tant.

“From our point of view, there is far more to de­vel­op­ing an in­terna- tional football team to win than purely work­ing on the train­ing pitch and what goes on on the ac­tual pitch,” he says.

Iden­tity

“We’ve worked very hard on our cul­ture of the group. What type of group we want to be, our iden­tity and, fun­da­men­tally, con­tinue ask­ing the ques­tion: Why are we here, what’s our big mo­ti­va­tion to go that lit­tle bit fur­ther?

“We’re at a place now where we’ve got a real strong en­vi­ron­ment, both on and off the field, and a group cul­ture that cre­ates a real sense of own­er­ship among the play­ers.

“They are tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for their learn­ing, for the team, and to a place where hope­fully we can re­ally push on.”

Nat­u­rally, there is a new ex­pec­ta­tion from both in­side and out­side the team. With a straight­for­ward group, on pa­per at least, the team should qual­ify com­fort­ably for the 2017 tour­na­ment in the Nether­lands. But com­pla­cency can’t creep in and, speak­ing to Samp­son, it’s clear he won’t al­low it.

“Of course there is huge ex­pec­ta­tion,” he says. “Ev­ery per­son I walk past in the street says we’re go­ing to win the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships – we haven’t re­ally got to turn up, just give us the tro­phy.

“So there is that huge ex­pec­ta­tion, but these play­ers know what it means to play for Eng­land and rep­re­sent their coun­try.

“That brings in it­self a huge pres­sure. But it’s how you see the pres­sure. Our play­ers al­ways see this pres­sure as a big op­por­tu­nity to go out and rep­re­sent the na­tion the right way and do our best.

“That’s all we can ask of the play­ers, that ev­ery day they do their best. We’re cer­tainly go­ing to con­tinue do­ing that.

“We are aware we are a team that can be com­pet­i­tive in this tour­na­ment. But we’re fully aware there is a long time be­tween now and then. If we take too many days off be­tween now and then, we won’t have a chance.The work starts now to make sure we are ready.”

PIC­TURE: The FA

JOLLY GOOD FEL­LOW: Mark Samp­son is lifted by his play­ers dur­ing the World Cup in Canada

WELL PLAYED: Eng­land Women with their medals

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