WSL clubs feel England players were bullied into early release for World Cup

<span>Photograph: Mark Pain/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Mark Pain/Alamy

Women’s Super League clubs feel their England players were bullied by the Football Association into accepting a meet-up date for the World Cup of 19 June, the Guardian has been told.

The clubs had been pushing for the players to be released no sooner than 23 June but the FA announced on Friday that squad preparations would start earlier in line with the head coach Sarina Wiegman’s wishes. The only player who may be missing is Bayern Munich’s Georgia Stanway.

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It is understood there is huge anger among WSL clubs at the FA over its handling of the dispute and that they felt pressured into backing down. The episode is said to have heavily soured relations between the clubs and the governing body, with a reference by the FA in a statement to the “mutual understanding of the clubs” being wide of the mark.

Negotiations are said to have been extremely fraught and the clubs claim the players were asked to reply with a thumbs up to a message confirming that they would join up with the England squad on 19 June, before any agreement had been reached with their clubs.

Players are also said to have been warned that should they not join up on 19 June their consideration for England’s warm-up game against Portugal in Milton Keynes on 1 July would be at risk and that five scheduled days off to spend time with family before going to Australia would no longer be possible. The capitulation of clubs is believed to have come in frustration at the pressure they feel was put on their players.

The clubs had been pushing for England to respect a deal the European Club Association reached with Fifa for a release timeframe of 23-29 June. But it has been confirmed that all the players at WSL clubs and Barcelona’s Lucy Bronze and Keira Walsh will be free to travel to St George’s Park on 19 June. Bayern have previously said they will not release anyone before 23 June.

England players are due to work on individual programmes from 12 June and Wiegman identified 19 June as the ideal date to start squad preparations. England are due to fly to Australia, which is hosting the World Cup with New Zealand, on 5 July and will play a final warm-up game behind closed doors against Canada on 14 July.

The FA was approached for comment and pointed to an earlier statement, which said: “We are grateful for the mutual understanding of the clubs, as we have collectively worked towards a solution with the wellbeing of players at the heart. All parties recognise we are not only preparing them to be fresh and fit for the intensity of a World Cup, but that a thorough preparation phase, including vital downtime with family and friends, will also benefit the players after the finals.

“We look forward to welcoming them to St George’s Park when they return from a well-earned rest.

“In the meantime, it is important the whole game comes together to address and solve the wider issues of the fixture calendar.”