“If I contribute in any way to the team, that’s my main priority”
The very best attackers in the business step up when it matters.
Raheem Sterling did it for England at this summer’s European Championships, grabbing three goals in the Three Lions’ opening four matches en route to a first international final in 55 years.
Didier Drogba regularly did it for Chelsea, finding the net in an astonishing nine of the ten major finals he took part in during his time at Stamford Bridge.
And so too does Ellen White, England’s all-time top scorer in two of three major international tournaments across her storied Lionesses career to date.
The City forward’s six strikes in seven World Cup matches back in 2019 equated to 46% of her nation’s goals at that tournament, and was matched only by United States’ duo Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe.
She has also found the net in each of her four SheBelieves Cup tournament appearances, with only Rapinoe bettering her tally of five strikes in twelve matches.
It’s safe to say that White’s contributions at decisive points in decisive matches have gone a long way towards the Lionesses’ climb into the upper echelons of the Women’s game.
While no slouch, especially over short distances, the 31-year-old would probably be the first to concede that her game isn’t reliant on searing pace or a dominant physique.
Instead, White’s most potent weapon is her brain.
She’s someone who has honed her craft and earned her corn through a combination of consistently clever runs and devastatingly clinical finishing, often leaving the opposition impersonating her trademark celebration as they rub their eyes in disbelief.
It’s propelled her into being one of the first names on the team sheet for City, England and, you would suspect, Team GB under Hege Riise’s watchful eye at this summer’s Olympics.
Her two goals in a warm-up victory over New Zealand suggest she’ll be exactly that, as White looks to make her mark on yet another major international tournament, as she has done so often in the past.
It's also fair to say that White’s England career began with a bang.
The striker latched onto Lianne Sanderson’s ball in behind before dinking the onrushing goalkeeper as the Lionesses chalked up a 3-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Austria in March 2010.
“For the first half I was panicky, because Hope Powell (the then manager) said everyone had to have studs on and I had moulded boots. I was really panicking and at half-time I had to rush in and change," White recalled.
“Kelly Smith caught me in the tunnel and said: ‘Just make sure you’re ready’, and I was like: ‘Ready for what?! I don’t know what’s happening!”
“I got on for 30 minutes and scored, it was a great memory.”
She would find the net three more times en route to the 2011 World Cup, earning a place in the squad off the back of an historic treble with Arsenal, whom she’d joined from Leeds Carnegie in July 2010.
And her scoring boots didn’t desert her in the Germany showpiece, as she grabbed the opener in a 2-0 win over Japan, who would go on to win the tournament.
It was penalty heartache for England in the quarter-finals after they and France couldn’t be separated after 120 minutes but, for White, it was a valuable taste of international football at an early stage in her fledgling career.
Twelve months later, she’d once again make the cut at a major tournament, this time being given the nod in Team GB’s inaugural appearance as host nation.
Although she didn’t find the back of the net en-route to a quarter-final exit, the 31-year-old certainly played her part in a truly memorable summer for women’s football.
Indeed, White started in the host nation’s historic 1-0 win over Brazil in the group stages, watched by a then-record 70,000 supporters at Wembley Stadium.
It’s a moment that, alongside the competition as a whole, still hasn’t quite sunk in for the City forward.
“To step on the field and say ‘I’m an Olympian’ is such a proud moment,” she would tell BT Sport in 2019.
“2012 was such an incredible year for us. I still get goosebumps when I think about it. When Steph (Houghton) scored that goal (against Brazil) the whole stadium erupted, it was unbelievable."
A cup double would follow for the forward at Arsenal before she decided to move to the midlands, switching the red of the Gunners for the black and white of Notts County in December 2013.
However, White’s continued progress would grind to an immediate halt inside a couple of months of her switch after she suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
A lengthy period on the sidelines followed, but she made her comeback just in time for the 2015 Women’s Super League campaign and, by April, had scored one of the most memorable goals in the competition’s history against her former employers.
With her back to goal from a direct free-kick, the ball was clipped into her path after Laura Bassett and future City teammate Alex Greenwood had seemingly got mixed up in trying to take the set piece.
The clever ruse caught the entire Gunners defence off guard and, on the turn, White found the bottom corner in impressive fashion for her first Notts County goal.
“I was awful, I was skying them left, right and centre in training,” White jokes when asked about the preparation behind the goal.
“But then in the game we got a free-kick in the exact spot to where we were practicing them, we were all looking at each other saying ‘this is the one!’
That goal helped to prove that she was back to her brilliant best, and White was rewarded with a spot in England’s squad for that summer’s World Cup in Canada, starting their opener against France.
She was limited to two further substitute appearances in the knockout stages as the Lionesses departed at the last four stage in heartbreaking circumstances.
It was a similar story of so near yet so far two years later when England finished third at their maiden SheBelieves Cup appearance and were beaten at the semi-final stage of Euro 2017 at the expense of eventual winners, the Netherlands, that summer.
Despite those near misses, White was continually showing that she belonged at the highest level, grabbing an 89th minute winner against the USA at the SheBelieves Cup as well as her first European Championship goal in the Lionesses’ 6-0 group stage win over Scotland.
Her performances on the international stage were starting to translate into goals at a rapid rate and that fact was reinforced the following March when the forward found the net twice in three games at the 2018 SheBelieves Cup.
It was the first, but certainly wouldn’t be the last time she’d top the scoring charts at a major tournament...
Grabbing yet another goal en route to SheBelieves Cup glory in March 2019, White would trade the royal blue of Birmingham for a lighter hue with City two months later.
"I want to learn and develop and I think I'm really going to do that here,” she would assert when signing for City in May 2019.
“I want to be involved in that winning mentality again and hopefully, I'll bring passion and commitment, and score some goals. I want to lead off the pitch as well as on it.”
However, before she could sink her teeth into a new challenge at Club level, there was the small matter of the 2019 World Cup, with England harbouring genuine hopes of glory.
Spearheading the attack, White would grab three goals in the groups stages as Phil Neville’s side easily progressed into the knockout stages, setting up a last 16 berth with Cameroon.
She was on target once again in a comprehensive 3-0 win over the Indomitable Lionesses and repeated the feat against Norway in the quarter-finals, setting up a last four clash with the USA.
With five goals in her five World Cup matches thus far, it came as no surprise that the forward would once again get herself on the scoresheet against the Americans, cancelling out Kristen Press’ early strike with a clinical first-time finish.
But joy turned to despair when White was denied a second after VAR judged that she had started a run behind the US defence a split second early.
With England still searching for an equaliser, the City forward was brought down as she looked to tap home Demi Stokes’ assist but, from the resultant penalty, Alyssa Naeher made a fine stop to preserve the World Champions’ lead.
It was a cruel twist of fate for the Lionesses and White who, falling once again at the semi-final stage, were left with a tangible sense of ‘what if?’
Two years on, that frustration has been channelled into an intense motivation, the kind that can only derive from an intense setback
White’s focus on bringing success to whomever she steps across the white line for is clear to see, especially with her reflections in the summer of 2020, a year on from her move to City.
“I hope people can see how much passion I have for the game. If I contribute in any way to the team, that’s my main priority.”
That potent blend of enthusiasm, quality and a collective ethos perfectly demonstrate why Ellen White has got to the position she is currently in.
Furthermore, it offers a genuine hope for Hege Riise’s side at Tokyo 2020; with White firing on all cylinders, they could finally get over that hurdle and cross the finish line with a medal in tow.
By George Kelsey