‘Definitely a Positive’ – Fern Whelan Praises the Inclusion of Younger Players in Hege Riise’s England Squad

England Women's Squad

Fern Whelan has praised the inclusion of several younger players in Hege Riise’s first squad as England Women’s interim head coach.

Fern Whelan Pleased With the Inclusion of Younger Players in Hege Riise’s England Women Squad

Four Uncapped Players Included

Riise included four uncapped players in her first squad for the upcoming friendly against Northern Ireland on February 23.

Goalkeeping duo Hannah Hampton (Birmingham City) and Sandy MacIver (Everton) have both been called up for the first time.

Arsenal defender Lotte Wubben-Moy and Manchester United’s Ella Toone have also been selected for their maiden inclusion within the England squad.

Speaking exclusively to Last Word on Football, Whelan said it is “definitely a positive” to include younger players within the England Women’s squad so that “they get as much experience as possible before heading into major tournaments”.

She said: “In the past, managers might be scared to play the younger players because they haven’t got the experience behind them at senior international level.

“So, the sooner they start exposing them to it, the sooner they can play at that level and not be fearful of the players they’re up against at major tournaments. They need to play against the best players in the world as much as possible.”

Discussing the omission of Beth Mead and Toni Duggan, Whelan said: “I can’t say that say I’m too surprised about Toni [Duggan], because she’s been in and out of the team lately anyway.

“I was very surprised at her decision to leave Beth Mead out though, but Riise was very honest in her reasoning about that and said the reports about her weren’t as good as the other players.

“Credit goes to the coach for that, as she’s set her stall out going forward and it says that if you’re an in-form player, then you’ve got every chance of being selected.”

High Competition for Places

Whelan spoke in more detail about the uncapped players included in the England Women’s squad. She said: “Those two goalkeepers [Hampton and MacIver] deserve to be there and be given that opportunity.

“Ella Toone has had a fantastic season for Manchester United and driven them forward, so why shouldn’t she get a chance for England?

“I was a little bit surprised by the omission of Millie Turner, as she’s been brilliant for Man United at centre-back and I think she will come back into the fore at some point.

“But the competition for places is high and she’s only got a small squad to take to this camp, so it should be really exciting to see them play and how they perform.”

A Quick Turnaround in Coaches

Riise will hold the reins until Sarina Wiegman takes over on a permanent basis in September, and Whelan is expecting a smooth transition once the time comes.

She said: “Every coach has got a different style, but I don’t think the ethos and mentality around how the Lionesses play will change too much.

“I’m sure Riise will be in contact with Wiegman about how they want the players to play. Ideally it shouldn’t change too much tactically, but their style of player management may differ.

“The squad might be tweaked a few times before the Olympics anyway, but the girls will just be happy to be back in and around each other again after so long without any international fixtures, so a change in coaches won’t be too much of a problem.”

Women’s Super League Plays a Big Part

The Lionesses have made big strides at the highest level in recent years after reaching the semi-finals of the last two World Cups, and the former England international says the Women’s Super League has a big role to play in this continued progress.

She said: “It starts with the league and the quality of players that the girls are training with week-in, week-out. That had to improve and become more competitive, but you can see that now, as it’s not just the top three teams taking points off one another.

“Attracting more foreign players into the league improves our youngsters, because they have experience facing top-quality opposition. They then have that knowhow heading into international tournaments.”

Quality of England Squads Is Improving

Whelan hopes this trend continues and is optimistic that the quality of England Women’s squads sent to major tournaments will continue to improve.

She said: “This new manager needs to be bold and brave enough to give the younger players experience. Sometimes in the past you have a starting 11 that’s played four or five games and subs that have not got any minutes under their belts.

“You want to have a squad of 20 where each and every player is good enough and trusted to do a job. You want every single player you take to a tournament to have that elite quality.

“I definitely think we’re getting there. You only need to look at the depth of Chelsea’s squad as an example. Any young player coming into that squad will be testing themselves against some of the best players in the world, week-in week out in training.

“It helps you develop as a player because you’re being tested constantly. We need to drive those standards all the time, rather than it just being the case on the international stage.”

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