Phil Neville has told his England squad for the SheBelieves Cup to put out of their minds the idea that the mini-tournament is an audition for TeamGB at the Tokyo Olympics.
“We can’t go to the SheBelieves and start talking about the development for the Olympics when there are 10, 15 or 20 players that can go to the Olympics who are not even there,” the manager said. “This is an England camp, we’ve got another England camp in April and we are focusing on it being an England camp. The work being done for the Olympics is being done outside of camps.”
With players from the other home nations eligible for the Olympics, Neville was keen to emphasise how separate he is keeping the roles. “I can’t impact on the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland players so it would be unfair for me to go to the SheBelieves and talk about the Olympics,” he said.
“I have stopped all of my staff talking about the Olympics, and I will stop the players talking about the Olympics. We are here to play for the Lionesses. When June-July comes we’ll start talking about the Olympics. There is a lot of work being done by all of my staff in terms of scouting, preparing, speaking to players on the lists … but this is an England game.”
Neville on Tuesday named a youthful England squad including the Everton forward Chloe Kelly, who has scored nine WSL goals from out wide this season. The tournament is being used to blood players but it is not a time to experiment too much.
“We want to win, the players want to win and if we experiment against the USA we’ll get beat,” said Neville. “You’ve got to go out there and use every golf club in the bag, use all the ammunition you’ve got to beat these [three] teams. Japan are preparing for an Olympic Games in their own country. They’ve been picking young players for the last two years for this moment in three months’ time. Spain are a rapidly improving team who were knocked out of the World Cup by the USA by a small margin in the summer. We can’t experiment.”
The Everton goalkeeper Sandy MacIver received her second call-up, and there was a first for the centre-back Grace Fisk, who joined West Ham in December having graduated from South Carolina University. England’s Euro 2017 top scorer Jodie Taylor and the Manchester United goalkeeper Mary Earps are the notable absentees.
Building a strong staff to give players the best chance to develop has been key to Neville’s plans since the World Cup.“It is easy to say they are not performing, they are playing bad, making bad passes. Actually you can look beneath the surface of that and say: ‘Right, are we giving them the best platform, the best care and support to make sure that when they go out, that mentally, physically, psychologically, they are able to handle anything that is thrown at them?’”
Goalkeepers: Carly Telford (Chelsea), Ellie Roebuck (Man City), Sandy MacIver (Everton).
Defenders: Leah Williamson (Arsenal), Lucy Bronze (Lyon), Rachel Daly (Houston Dash), Demi Stokes (Man City), Millie Bright (Chelsea), Abbie McManus (Man Utd), Grace Fisk (West Ham), Steph Houghton (Man City), Alex Greenwood (Lyon).
Midfielders: Keira Walsh (Man City), Jordan Nobbs (Arsenal), Lucy Staniforth (Birmingham), Georgia Stanway (Man City), Jill Scott (Man City).
Forwards: Nikita Parris (Lyon), Beth England (Chelsea), Lauren Hemp (Man City), Toni Duggan (Atlético Madrid), Chloe Kelly (Everton), Ellen White (Man City).
England's SheBelieves Cup fixtures
Thu 5 March v USA (Orlando) 7pm local / 12am Friday GMT
Sun 8 Mar v Japan (Harrison, NJ) 2.15pm local / 7.15pm GMT
Mon 11 Mar v Spain (Frisco, TX) 4.15pm local / 9.15pm GMT
• Matches live on BBC Two, BBC Four and iPlayer
Dawn Scott, a two-times World Cup-winning high-performance coach with the USA, has been poached with this in mind. “This week there has been a massive thing about menstrual cycles [with Chelsea having revealed they plan training around players’ periods].
“Dawn implemented that within the US national team. We are implementing it now with our girls. Dawn has already spoken to a lot of the players about it and made a big impact.”
The biggest impact is in her tailored profiling of the players. “Dawn has a big thing on men aren’t women and women aren’t men,” Neville said. “We have to tailor our philosophies, profiles, the way we test, strength and condition, and she is making things really bespoke.”
Neville described the state of some WSL pitches as a “reality check” but was keen to place that in perspective: “Clubs are working so hard to make sure the gap is closing and the FA are pledging, committing to that investment. Rather than looking at the negatives and the criticism of certain things that need to be improved … be totally proud of where we are at, because I would rather have this massive rise and where we are now than where we were probably five years ago when conditions were really bad.”