Steph Houghton has acknowledged the responsibility she feels helping the younger England players at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Phil Neville has taken a good mix of youth and experience in a well-balanced squad of 23.
And as captain of her nation, Houghton believes that it is her duty to help the young players enjoy what is quickly shaping up to be the most well-supported women’s tournament to date.
Houghton admitted that, as a young player, she didn’t get the opportunity to be playing in front of crowds of up to 40,000 and wants her teammates to realise just how privileged they are to be playing in a tournament of this size.
She said: “I think for me, and other experienced players like Karen Carney and Jill Scott, it’s about making sure they enjoy it. Look, it’s going to be the biggest World Cup and they’ve got that opportunity, so it’s now about taking it.
“We’ve got so many good young players coming through that deserve to be playing on this big stage. For us, it’s just about being there to put an arm around them let them know that they’ve got our full support and that’s how it’s always been.
“Of course, it’s going to be nerve-racking but, at the same time, we have to make sure we enjoy the experience because we play our best football when we’re relaxed.
“For me, I think it has brought out the best of us and helped those players with less experience get the opportunity of playing the big games against the best teams.”
There is a plethora of young players bracing the Lionesses, who will all surely look to learn from the veteran. None more so perhaps than her two City teammates Kiera Walsh (22) and Georgia Stanway (20), who will continue the privilege of being captained by Houghton even after the end of the domestic season.
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In the build-up to England’s highly anticipated match with Scotland later today, Neville commended the leadership of his captain and claimed that she has had the best year of her illustrious career.
“I think Steph has had the best 12 months of her career in terms of her form and her performances on the field,” said Neville in reference to her trophy winning season with City. “I did have to rest her in April because she had played in every training session and every game and we needed to make sure we protected her for the World Cup.
“It is why she didn’t play against Denmark; it is why she didn’t play against Spain. She wants to be involved in everything like all the best leaders do.”
For City this season, Houghton played in all 20 games in the Women’s Super League campaign and made 11 appearances in other competitions; the centre-back has played more minutes than any other Blues player this season.
She was at the very heart of the team that won the FA and Continental Cup double and will be hoping to win her third major trophy of this long season come the end of the tournament.
Joe Lightfoot is a Football Journalism student at the University of Derby who are reporting on the Women’s World Cup from France.