Phil Neville has urged Beth England to “keep driving forward to get that No 9 shirt” from first-choice centre-forward Ellen White after the Chelsea striker scored a hat-trick in Friday’s internal friendly.
“I think she’s getting fitter and stronger and has more confidence and more belief,” said the manager at the close of England’s last camp of 2020. “I’ve worked really closely with Emma [Hayes] at Chelsea – we’ve both been challenging Beth to get up to the levels she was. It was eight months ago that she won all those awards – that’s a long time in football – and now this camp has been her best camp so far.”
England, who was named PFA player of the year for her 21 goals in the 2019-20 season, has struggled to maintain her place in Chelsea’s starting XI after an achilles injury picked up on international duty at the end of last season, a ruptured appendix just before pre-season and an eye injury on her return to training hampered her return. She has appeared in each of the Blues’ six WSL games but only has two full 90-minute matches under her belt.
After Chelsea’s 4-0 defeat of Everton on 8 November, in which England scored twice, Hayes similarly challenged the striker to raise her game. “I was happy with her today, but my job is to win games, not to make my players happy. It’s up to Beth to make sure it is the start of another run of fantastic games,” she said.
Neville praised England for looking sharp but warned that the forward had a lot of work to do to dislodge White, who was the bronze boot winner at the2019 World Cup. “Ellen White’s still my first-choice centre-forward,” he said. “Beth England’s still got to keep improving, still got to keep challenging to become the number one striker.
“Ellen has set the bar really high and Beth set the bar really high last season. She came into [the England set up], she’s now getting used to the environment, she’s feeling more comfortable. Now I want to see her perform at that top level. There’s a big difference at the top, top level in performances.”
The Arsenal defender Leah Williamson, who has played for England at every level, described the striker as a “breath of fresh air” for not having made the same journey through the national team’s youth ranks and increasing the competitiveness as a result.
“A lot of the newer girls are like that, but I think Beth’s achieved so much at club [level] that she’s bringing that competitiveness in. She’s here to stake a claim for a place in the team. That drives you on and drives everyone else on – especially her direct competition. I think you’re seeing the best of both of them because of an attitude that Beth’s brought in. She’s a really positive person, so she’s always looking to bring that and improve herself.”