Ellen White has been at the top of her game long enough to know that, with increased publicity comes increased scrutiny, writes Joe Leavey.
As women’s football continues to grow at an exponential rate across the country, so too do expectations, borne out most clearly on the international stage.
A fourth-place finish at last summer’s Women’s World Cup attracted record viewing figures, with 11.7m people tuning in as Phil Neville’s side were beaten 2-1 by eventual winners the USA at the semi-final stage in France.
Off the back of the World Cup fever, the national team – as well as this season’s FA Women’s Super League – have gone on to break a series of attendance records, although subsequent Lionesses displays have left a lot to be desired.
Defeats to Brazil and Germany in friendlies on home soil – the latter in front of 77,768 fans at Wembley – were separated by unconvincing wins over Portugal and the Czech Republic, as pressure begins to ramp up on Neville’s side before a home European Championships next summer.
But star forward White says that that it’s all part and parcel of building any successful team, as she prepares to lead the line for her country at this month’s SheBelieves Cup in the States.
“In terms of the negative or criticism from people, we want to be challenging for World Cups, we want to be winning things and with that comes criticism, with that comes negative comments,” the Manchester City striker said.
“We understand that, we know that; we’re in a football environment where that’s very high and that happens, so I think we’ve just got to take it with a pinch of salt.
“We’ve got to concentrate on what we understand, and we know, play collectively as a team and understand our goals, what we want to strive for because we’ve got some big years coming up in terms of international football.”
Back on that sweet, sweet grass.
Our first full training day, complete. ✨ pic.twitter.com/vAPKwkIiF4
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) March 3, 2020
England head to the States looking to defend their crown in the SheBelieves after topping the four-team group as they ended last year's tournament unbeaten.
And White believes that, in spite of the friendly nature of the competition, it is vital to treat it with respect as the Lionesses look to cap this golden generation with a major trophy.
“It really does replicate a tournament environment as well: the games come thick and fast, a lot of travelling, so it’s really helpful for us to develop that ability to perform quickly, recover quickly and play against very top opposition as well,” she continued.
“For us we know what we want to achieve and the journey we’re taking – I think that’s the most important thing.
“Obviously, there have been some disappointing results, but I think for us, our focus is to get it right when it matters.
“This is a big tournament for us; we want to perform at the SheBelieves. We want to put things right that haven’t quite worked out, we want to perform and hold onto the trophy.
“That’s a big priority for us: we want to go and win things, we’re not there just for the ride. It’s important for England to keep that winning mentality and obviously we need to grow and develop as a team as well post-World Cup; I think that’s important at the same time.”
Joint top scorer at the World Cup with six goals, White captured the nation with her trademark celebration, and in doing so confirmed her status as one of the world’s best strikers.
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) March 2, 2020
But she may be forced to fight for her starting role up top, with the likes of Chelsea's Beth England – who currently leads the way in the race for the Women’s Super League golden boot – fancied by many to be handed game-time out in the States.
White, however, is by no means daunted by the prospect of competition for places, knowing that, ultimately, it can only spell good news for the team.
“We’ve got some very talented players and forwards within this league,” she added.
“It’s great for English football that we’ve got a lot of players bang on form at the moment – that’s a headache for Phil but is exciting for England and exciting for the future as well.
“I thrive off being a more experienced player, but we’ve got some very talented players in the squad that have played in Champions League finals, domestically in FA Cups and League Cups and titles, so when they come and play for England everyone’s very experienced in their own way.
“I think we thrive off that as a team and push each other not only in training, but also in games. Everyone’s got a role to play in that way – not just the older players – so everyone’s got something to bring and that’s exciting.”