Football Features

“It fired me up” – Ellen White talks England Women’s No.9 conundrum and biggest rivalry

By Harry Edwards

Published: 12:27, 21 July 2023

Talk of England suffering a goal ‘drought’ is overstated, says the Lionesses’ record scorer Ellen White ahead of their 2023 Women’s World Cup opener.

European champions England scored 138 goals in their first 30 games under Sarina Wiegman, hitting double figures on five separate occasions including a 20-0 victory over Latvia in 2023 Women’s World Cup qualifying.

However, April’s 2-0 defeat to Australia ended Wiegman’s 30-game unbeaten run as England manager. And with White now retired and Euro 2022 Golden Boot-winner Beth Mead ruled out by an ACL injury, England played out goalless draws in their World Cup warm-up friendlies against Portugal and Canada.

So ahead of Saturday’s opener against Haiti, should England fans be worried?

“I wouldn’t say it’s a drought, it’s been three games,” England’s all-time top goalscorer told Squawka at the recent Pixel FC launch.

“This is what I got when I started the Euros and hadn’t scored for three games and I was being hammered for it, and I’m like ‘it was three games’.

“Yeah it was disappointing to lose to Australia, draw against Portugal and Canada, but the girls are still getting minutes and obviously Sarina changed the team quite a lot throughout those two games. So I wouldn’t read anything too much into it.”

One of the main questions surrounding England is who Sarina will choose to lead the line at the World Cup. At Euro 2022 it was White, with Alessia Russo coming on to freshen up the attack as the opposition defences tired, a combination which worked as the now-Arsenal striker scored four goals at the tournament including that iconic backheel against Sweden.

Russo is one of three strikers in Wiegman’s squad this summer, with many expecting her to battle Rachel Daly for the starting spot. Daly played left-back at Euro 2022 but was given England’s No.9 shirt this summer. She comes into the tournament off the back of a 22-goal season in the WSL for Aston Villa, becoming the competition’s first English Golden Boot winner. Her 22 goals also equalled Vivianne Miedema’s record for the most in a single WSL campaign, as Villa finished fifth.

“Rach [Daly] is more similar to me, but that doesn’t mean that that’s what Sarina wants because they’ve all got very different styles of play, different attributes,” White said, adding: “­­­­­Obviously Alessia [Russo] came on pretty much every game in the Euros and Beth [England’s] been scoring freely for Spurs.

“They’ve all got really great attributes, so I think that’s exciting. And whether Sarina kind of changes that up game by game, I think any opposition that comes against them will be pretty scared to be fair.”

In January, Bethany England made the big decision to leave Chelsea, where she was playing second fiddle to Sam Kerr, for more regular game time at Tottenham. To say the move worked out would be an understatement.

In 12 WSL games for Tottenham, England scored 12 times, only failing to score on three occasions. Adding to her two goals in the first half of the campaign with Chelsea, only Daly and Bunny Shaw scored more goals than England — with her former Blues teammate Kerr ending the campaign on 12 goals.

However, England was an unused substitute the goalless draw against Portugal and was one of just two players not used in the behind-closed-door game with Canada (alongside goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck), a source of much frustration to Lionesses fans. It’s not the first time Wiegman has refused to use England either; the 29-year-old remained on the bench in all six of England’s game at Euro 2022.

But White believes Wiegman will have been communicating her thinking in private conversations with England.

She added: “Beth has made it clear she wants to play for England. She wants to be in the squad and I’m assuming that Sarina has had conversations with her.

“Obviously, at the moment it seems like she is kind of the third of the three No.9s but I’m sure Sarina has had those conversations with her. She could be needed at any point really.”

England are favourites to win the World Cup’s Group B over Denmark, China and Haiti without too much trouble. But this outcome won’t necessarily save them from a tough run to the final. If results from the other groups also follow the odds, England would face Australia, Germany, France and USA in the knockout stages. Not only are these some of the biggest names in women’s football, but two are counted among England’s biggest rivals.

White said: “Germany are a big rival of England’s, both men’s and women’s. It’s one of the most iconic games, isn’t it? I’d say USA, Germany, Sweden, maybe Australia…. teams that are bang in form at the moment.

“But I’d say Germany and USA are the [biggest rivals] at the moment.”

At Euro 2009, Germany broke England hearts with a 6-2 win in the Lionesses’ first final appearance for 25 years. That score was settled with last summer’s Euro 2022 victory. Next on the list is the United States, who knocked the Lionesses out of the semi-finals in 2019 in devastating fashion, with Steph Houghton missing the chance to equalise late on from the penalty spot.

White scored that day but the match is most remembered for the moment Alex Morgan put USA 2-1 up and mimed sipping tea to celebrate. It caused furore on social media with many believing Morgan was mocking English culture.

The American forward later revealed the message behind the celebration was, “‘That’s the tea,’ which is telling a story, spreading news.”

But regardless, White feels the flashpoint is good for the women’s game.

“It’s exciting to have that rivalry and it definitely fires you up,” she said.

“It fired me up wanting to score or wanting to defeat [the USWNT], and I think it shows a bit of personality as well, doesn’t it? I think you shouldn’t be afraid to express yourself and to just show a little bit of personality and I’m sure she knew what she was doing and having a bit of a laugh at the same time and that definitely fired us up.

“So yeah it was an interesting one, but I think you should be able to express yourself and have a bit of personality, and I think that’s important.”

Ellen White was speaking at the launch of Pixel FC, a collective of dedicated women’s football creators helping to close the visibility gap within women’s football.