Sarina Wiegman has given Steph Houghton hope of an England recall despite leaving the former captain out of the squad to face Austria and Luxembourg in two World Cup qualifiers at the start of September.
Houghton was, somewhat contentiously, also omitted from the squad which won Euro 2022 in July and the 34-year-old’s international future under Wiegman remains very much in the balance.
But Wiegman said after naming her first squad since the victory over Germany at Wembley that she would talk to Houghton before October’s friendly against the United States. Houghton spent much of last season recovering from an achilles injury but believed, vehemently, she was fit enough to play at the Euros.
She returned to competitive action for Manchester City last week. Wiegman though did not think Houghton’s two substitute appearances during City’s Champions League qualifiers were enough to earn her a place on England’s forthcoming flight to Vienna.
“I had a conversation with her this week and I’ll have another conversation with her before we go into the next camp,” said England’s manager. “I just hope she can play more games and get some football rhythm; then we’ll see where she’s at.”
Regardless of Houghton’s international future, Wiegman confirmed the “dynamics” of her team were changing after not only this week’s retirement of two Lionesses’ stalwarts in Ellen White and Jill Scott but Leah Williamson’s interpretation of the captain’s role.
“We’ll absolutely miss Ellen and Jill because they’re two such big personalities and they had such an impact on the team,” said the Dutchwoman. “But we already saw during the summer that Leah grew into the captain’s role and collaborated with the whole team. So I do now think the dynamics will change a little bit but that’s normal; things will stabilise over the next two camps.”
With White and Scott no longer part of the equation and Chelsea’s Fran Kirby and Manchester City’s Chloe Kelly sidelined by minor injuries, Wiegman has included Arsenal’s Jordan Nobbs, Manchester United’s Katie Zelem, Chelsea’s Lauren James and Houston Dash’s Ebony Salmon.
England need a point against Austria on Saturday week or a win against Luxembourg at Stoke the following Tuesday to guarantee qualification for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Well before next summer Wiegman is expected to have signed an improved and extended contract. The 52-year-old confirmed the Football Association hierarchy have been in touch about a new deal. “I spoke to them and we’ll have a conversation in a short while,” she said. “I still have a contract for three years so we don’t have to do it tomorrow but I really appreciate that they’re reaching out to me and they’re happy with me.”
She is delighted by the return of the gifted Nobbs, who missed Euro 2022 though injury, and said the midfielder was “very excited” about trying to reclaim her place in England’s starting XI a “big game” against a strong Austria side the Lionesses have beaten 1-0 in their past two meetings.
Manchester United’s Alessia Russo is expected to step into White’s boots at centre-forward but the 21-year-old Salmon and 20-year-old James have opportunities to press their claims for inclusion in attack. “Ebony’s moved to Houston Dash and done well,” said Wiegman. “She’s a real goalscorer. Last year she came into the squad but she just needed more time. She’s [since] done so well we want to give her a chance to show where she’s at now.”
Although James – the younger sister of Chelsea men’s Reece James – does not command a regular starting place for Emma Hayes’s WSL champions, Wiegman believes the former Manchester United player possesses immense potential. “We know she’s very talented,” she said. “We really wanted to give her a chance to show what she can do.”
It is not yet a month since England became European champions and Wiegman – who has spent most of the intervening period relaxing at home in the Netherlands with her husband and two daughters – admitted the enormity of the team’s achievement was still sinking in.
“It was amazing,” she said. “I still think I need a little bit more time to really realise what happened. It’s a little bit like a fairytale.”