When a footballer walks away from the international stage at a young age, supporters are often surprised as they usually find it difficult to understand why a player would not want to play for their country. So when a 22-year-old Lianne Sanderson quit the England women’s team back in August 2010, questions were asked as to why she felt compelled to make that decision. Sanderson revealed her reasons, citing personal issues with former national coach Hope Powell as the main factor behind her announcement.
From there, the forward spent the next three years watching her former international team-mates from the sidelines and when Powell later went on to become the manager of Great Britain’s Olympic women’s football team in 2012, Sanderson was left out in the cold once again.
However, following a poor UEFA Women’s EURO 2013 campaign, which saw Powell relieved from her duties as England manager, Sanderson saw an opportunity to make her return to the national set-up when Mark Sampson was appointed as the new coach in December 2013.
“It’s been amazing how far we’ve come in such a short space of time under Mark and all of his staff,” she told *FIFA.com.* “He loves football, and that’s one of the first things he said to me. Mark and his staff all bounce off each other really well. We feel like one big family. That’s exactly what Mark wants and I think we feel like a really tight unit at the moment.”
There you can expect an England team that is going to be ready. We have been preparing even before we qualified.
Every coach has their own philosophy and Sanderson, who has been included in all of the new manager's England squads so far, has bought into it fully and believes that improvements have been made on and off the pitch since the Welshman took over.
“You can tell the girls are enjoying their training because you can see it in their play,” she added. “I think after being in America for five years, seeing the mentality and philosophy Mark is trying to put in place is a great one. He allows us to make mistakes. He allows us to be adults and I think that’s important. The girls play with no fear. We’re more comfortable on the ball. We’re no longer a team that plays a long-ball game. I’m not saying that’s how it was before, but now I feel like everybody on the pitch can play.
“If you’re a centre-half or a right-back you have to be technically good, too. On any given day anyone can start, and I think that’s important to have that competition. That’s a big difference now. We drive each other on to be better individually. Mark and his staff give us the best opportunities to be at the best we can be.”
Historic Wembley milestone
Sanderson, and her England team-mates will need to be at the top of their game later this month if they are to be victorious in their first-ever appearance at the new Wembley Stadium. Having not played at the national ground since its 2007 opening, England’s women will play in a friendly against two-time world champions and well-known arch-rivals Germany in front of 55,000 spectators and a live television audience. Yet the former Arsenal and Chelsea Ladies star virtually downplayed this landmark event, claiming that it is just another step on the road to the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ next year.
“It will be a great test for us, one we’re willing to take on and I think one we will thrive in,” she said. “But our long-term goal is based on Canada. A lot of this stuff we’re doing is based around the World Cup. So it’s not necessarily that we’re working towards Wembley. I think everybody knows the magnitude of this game. The girls’ mentality will be to win and to put on a good show for the country. But the long-term goal is Canada.
“There you can expect an England team that is going to be ready. We have been preparing even before we qualified. We will put ourselves individually in the best physical, mental and technical shape – and Mark and his staff give us the best opportunities to be at the best we can be.”
Sampson will be 32 when he leads England at Canada, some 40 years younger than Sanderson’s coaching legend; Sir Alex Ferguson. Sanderson, a passionate Manchester United fan, bumped into the celebrated Scot at the Emirates Stadium a few years ago and experienced a moment that she’ll never forget.
“I saw him in the room and I remember thinking, 'I have to speak to him', but I needed to pick the right moment,” the 26-year-old recalled. “I didn’t want to interrupt and be rude. If the moment didn’t arrive it would have been fine. I would have just been happy to see him, but there was a moment where he was walking towards me as I was heading to the bathroom and I said, “Sir Alex, sorry to interrupt but I just wanted to say ‘Hi.’ He was great. We actually spoke for probably three-to-five minutes. It may not seem very long, but we engaged in an actual conversation and he was genuinely interested in my footballing career.
“For me, Sir Alex Ferguson is Manchester United. To meet him and have a conversation with him was probably one of the best moments of my career off the field. It was unbelievable. After the conversation, I had to go into the bathroom, have a moment and calm down. I looked into the mirror and said to myself: ‘Did that really just happen?'”
Ballon d'Or tip
Sir Alex scooped the FIFA Presidential Award at the 2011 FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala for his services to football and Sanderson will be keeping a keen eye on the 2014 event, particularly if one of her former team-mates, Veronica Boquete reaches the final three. The Spanish attacking midfielder, who currently plays her club football in Frankfurt, has made the shortlist of ten players which will be narrowed down to three on 1 December and Sanderson is adamant that she should be heading to Zurich for the glittering event.
“I’d put her in my top three in the world, having played against her and as a team-mate when we were in Philadelphia,” she said. “For a player who doesn’t play for a national team that historically has a large platform is great. I know Spain qualified for the World Cup but Vero has been superb for her club and country before then. She’s only just getting the recognition she deserves now.”