Sarina Wiegman: Alessia Russo unfazed by world-record bid by Arsenal
Sarina Wiegman has insisted that Manchester United striker Alessia Russo has not been fazed by Arsenal’s world-record transfer bid.
The England head coach named Russo in her 26-player squad for the upcoming Arnold Clark Cup mini-tournament a week after the 23-year-old was the subject of a headline-grabbing £500,000 approach from Arsenal that would have made her the world’s most expensive female footballer. However, Wiegman has been impressed with Russo’s professional attitude towards the situation.
“It [transfer deadline day] is another thing developing in the women’s game, it was a big topic, and she was the subject of it,” Wiegman said of Russo. “But I don’t think she’s distracted. I went to Manchester United’s game on Sunday and I don’t think she was distracted, she was just doing her job and was very motivated to play a good game.”
Russo, as expected, is among seven forwards in Wiegman’s latest Lionesses squad, which also sees captain Leah Williamson welcomed back after missing November’s camp through injury. Manchester City midfielder Laura Coombs, fresh from signing a new contract with her club until 2025 earlier on Tuesday, received her first national team call-up since 2020.
However, while Russo stayed put at her current club on deadline day, this Lionesses squad highlights that simply moving clubs to try to get more gametime ahead of the World Cup will be no guarantee of selection by Wiegman.
Midfielders Jordan Nobbs and Lucy Staniforth switched to Aston Villa from Arsenal and Manchester United respectively in January, but neither have been selected by the Dutch coach despite making bright starts for their new clubs. Similarly, striker Bethany England made a £200,000 move to Tottenham from Chelsea and has scored three times in her first four games for Tottenham in all competitions, but that has not proved enough for a Lionesses place yet.
“They’re competing for selection,” said Wiegman when asked about that trio. “They’re in a good place, they’ve moved clubs and they’re playing a lot now and they can improve their game, and I think that makes it good for competition. But you can’t control what your competitors do and you can’t control what choice I will make together with our technical staff, and that’s the situation they’re in right now.
“So yes, it’s good they get [match] minutes, that makes their position better but doesn't guarantee that you’re being selected. They have to compete with the others too.”
There is also no place in this 26 for January’s WSL Player of the Month - Everton defender Gabby George. Wiegman described her as a “great person to work with”, but added that George’s rivals in her position “won that competition at the moment”.
Meanwhile, Aston Villa striker Rachel Daly has been listed as a defender in Wiegman's squad, despite scoring in the first half when given a chance as England’s central number nine in their most recent international in November against Norway and being the WSL’s second-top scorer so far this season with nine league goals from 12 matches up front for Villa. Daly started at left-back for England in last summer’s European Championships. February’s squad also contains Alex Greenwood, Jess Carter and Niamh Charles, who are all capable of playing at left-back too.
The England squad in full:
🆚 Korea Republic 🇰🇷
🆚 Italy 🇮🇹
🆚 Belgium 🇧🇪#TelegraphWomensSport pic.twitter.com/kOJriv8vaP
— Telegraph Women’s Sport (@WomensSport) February 7, 2023
Wiegman will have a greater selection headache when choosing a squad of 23 for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, which begins on 20 July. She has, for now, added a fourth goalkeeper, giving a richly-deserved call-up to Everton’s Emily Ramsey. The 22-year-old is uncapped but Wiegman said Ramsey had been on their list “for a long time”.
Making the World Cup remains a race against time for Arsenal forward Beth Mead, who ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament in November. Wiegman said it was still “a little too early” to know if Mead can be fit for the World Cup.
Before then, England will defend the Arnold Clark Cup trophy that they won 12 months ago when facing South Korea, Italy and Belgium on February 16, 19 and 22 respectively. It is a tournament the hosts will be expected to dominate, but already all eyes are on the World Cup and everyone will be looking at how England are progressing five months out.