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Amie Belshaw: A Woman on a Mission

The 2019 Women's World Cup sees England reign supreme as Amie leads the Lionesses to their maiden title. Now she has captured attention in the men's game and has been hired by French side US Boulogne. Will Amie have what it takes to succeed?
Started on 13 January 2020 by ScottT
Latest Reply on 29 April 2020 by Justice
ScottT's avatar Group ScottT
4 yearsEdited

With just over a month to go before England began their preparations for the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup in France with a warm-up friendly against Lars Søndergaard's Denmark following the conclusion of the Women's Super League season, the twenty-three man squad for the tournament was revealed. Excitement gathered on social media as numerous stars, including David Beckham, Raheem Sterling and Alex Scott, shared videos online each revealing a member of the squad. Those included in the squad were informed of their place in the squad through text message with their individual video before they were shared online the following day. The social media campaign was an initiative created by the FA in an attempt to raise further interest ahead of the tournament in June.

The selection process was never going to be easy for head-coach Amie Belshaw, in whom had been in her position since the sacking of controversial former head-coach Mark Sampson. Sampson was sacked in September 2017 following evidence of "inappropriate and unacceptable" behaviour with former players in a previous role alongside allegations of racism brought to light by former England ace Eniola Aluko while part of the England training camp.

Belshaw was head-hunted by the FA having managed in her native France for the past three years, guiding Olympique Lyon to successive domestic titles, as well as back-to-back UEFA Champions League victories. Born in Middlesbrough, the now 33-year-old moved to France at the age of eleven and began her playing career with Lyon at eighteen. She retired in 2012 at just twenty-six following recurring ankle and knee injuries which restricted her playing-time significantly over the course of her career, before being offered a place as part of the backroom staff, where she progressed up the ranks to become Lyon head-coach in 2014.

Upon accepting the FA's approach to become England head-coach, Belshaw professed: "England has always been in my heart. I have been apart from it for so long, but I've always known that my true home lies back home in Middlesbrough. As a young girl, I always wanted to become a footballer and I was fortunate to be given that opportunity. Once you are given that privilege, I think the natural desire for anyone is to want to play for your country. Unfortunately, I was never given that honour as a result of my injury problems - I came close on a few occasions, but I ultimately never made the final squad. It was heartbreaking for me, but now I've been handed an equally fantastic opportunity and honour that I'm determined to succeed in. I feel like destiny has brought me here."

"My time with Lyon was filled with success. I've become used to winning and I've definitely got the winning mentality you need in order to lift the highest of prizes. I've done that at club level and now I want to do that on an international level with my country. We are truly blessed with some incredible players and with the investment from the FA, the women's game only continues to grow - both here in England and worldwide. The foundations are continually being built on and we're beginning to see the rewards of that come to fruition with more eyes on our game than ever before."

"When the World Cup comes around in 2019, I want to be in a position where we can take on the world's best. I know that we can do that. I also want the country to be fully behind the girls and there's no reason that both of those wishes aren't possible should we work hard enough."

Amie stood by those words since that very press-conference in 2017. Throughout her time as head-coach, she was keen on developing the young stars of the women's game and wasn't afraid of making big decisions. The World Cup squad was no different. Fara Williams was the biggest exclusion from the squad with the striker who had amassed a record of one-hundred and seventy caps for her country left out. She held the all-time record for the most number of England caps ahead of current stars Jill Scott and Karen Carney. Jordan Nobbs was another regular face missing from the squad, albeit through injury. The midfielder, who is very much viewed as the 'second in command' to captain Steph Houghton, ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee during a Super League game against Everton in November and didn't recover in time to be available for selection.

Instead, the spotlight was given to young players like Manchester City stars Georgia Stanway and Kiera Walsh and Arsenal's Leah Williamson. Meanwhile, Toni Duggan was surprisingly included in the squad despite question marks over her fitness as she continued to recover from injury.

While England's squad looked strong on paper, they were still underdogs to win the tournament. The USA led by the likes of Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe were huge favourites to reclaim the World Cup having won the previous competition held in Canada in 2015. The American's were by far the best team in women's football and would be looking to win the trophy for the fourth time since the tournament officially began in 1991 - similarly being held every four years like the men's World Cup.

However, Belshaw remained confident in her players as 2019 came around and knew they had the ability to go toe-to-toe with the USA following a 2-2 draw in the SheBelieves Cup in March. The tournament consisted of England, USA, Japan and Brazil in a group format, in which England reigned supreme after beating Japan 3-0 to finish top as the American's were left to rue their draw with the Japanese in the opening group game.

The warm-up games presented the perfect opportunity for Amie to establish what the starting squad would be for the opening game of the World Cup against Scotland. Following Denmark, the Lionesses would take on New Zealand before travelling to Nice - where the squad would be based - the next day with just eight days separating the two fixtures. England had known who their opponents in the group stages would be well in advance of the competition with the draw being made late last year. Argentina and Japan would complete the group alongside England's opening opponents Scotland. The Japanese would be England's final opponents in Group D.

The players had trained well and looked sharp ahead of the first of the two games. Confidence was obviously high heading into the game with the Danes and Amie named a strong side. Full-back Lucy Bronze and her defensive partner Steph Houghton were the notable absentees from the game, as both players were rested. Karen Bardsley was named in goal with a back four of Daly, Williamson, Bright and Stokes ahead of her. Georgia Stanway, Jade Moore and Jill Scott featured in a midfield three, while Ellen White led the line alongside Nikita Parris and Beth Mead.

England ran out comfortable 2-0 victors at the Bank's Stadium in Walsall with Nikita Parris's strike on half-time added to by Jill Scott in the second-half. Amie was impressed with many of the performances from her players, but was disappointed with the Lionesses efficiency in-front of goal as they recorded just two shots on target from ten attempts on goal. She noted that particular aspect had to improve in the next game against New Zealand and especially during the World Cup, although she told reporters she still had full confidence in Ellen White who looked increasingly likely to start against Scotland with Toni Duggan unavailable.

Ellen's ability was obvious. The 30-year-old had plenty of experience under her belt having played at Arsenal, Chelsea and Leeds prior to making the move to Birmingham. Having enjoyed a terrific campaign with the Blues, scoring twenty-one goals in twenty-six games, White opted not to sign a new deal. The World Cup would provide the perfect opportunity for her to put her name firmly in the shop window.

Morale was understandably high after the victory with attentions now turning to New Zealand just a week later. Amie assured those that didn't feature in the Denmark game that they would be given their opportunity against the Kiwi's at the Amex Stadium in Brighton, including both Lucy Bronze and Steph Houghton. However, matters would soon take a turn for the worst ahead of the tournament...
A fantastic return. Although I am dreading what Justice is going to be like throughout this story...
Wooo Scott has a story now!!!! This is going to be good, you going to 'ship her with Joe Hart?
Welcome back to writing Scott!
Finally, only a few months late ;) Looking forward to what you have in store for us this year!
ScottT's avatar Group ScottT
4 yearsEdited

I often pondered on the comments I made in my initial press-conference upon accepting the FA's offer to become the Lionesses's head-coach following the abrupt dismissal of previous head-coach Mark Sampson. The honour bestowed upon me was something incredible, however I recognised that I had merited the opportunity in which was presented to me and sought to succeed wherever possible. It's simply not in my nature to shy away from making bold statements in which I truly believed in. I recognised the potential within the women's game in this country and knew we had the ability within us to build something special. I simply made comments based on a clear observation I had made. Some critics labelled me as 'naive' for doing so. They often seemed to center their argument around the belief I had that we could challenge the greatest female team in the world, the USA, to eventually win the greatest prize available in our sport. I saw no reason as to why I had ought to reserve such comments. It was a perfectly reasonable belief to have, so I thought. The critics simply wanted a reason to talk.

The media reception was initially mixed, although I tended to divert my attention away from the modern day British media as the narrative of the press bothered me. With results, my comments began to resonate with supporters and the media alike. The critics were slowly beginning to be silenced with each victory, although some continued to state that we were world's apart from the US in spite of our SheBelieves Cup success. They labelled it a 'fad,' but I simply shrugged it off and understood those comments for what they were; utter sh*te.

The attention on our game was rapidly growing and new avenues were continually being unlocked. Attendances were growing at a rate never seen before and it was at that point I knew that we were onto something special. The country was rallying behind us, just as I had hoped. The upcoming World Cup in France was an opportunity to change the game for good within our sport and really unlock the hidden potential that the world, in large parts, had yet to witness. This was a game-changing opportunity, potentially, and we all recognised that. Yet we understood the pressure wasn't on us as such, it was on those like the US who had built a reputation of constant success - we were merely the plucky underdogs with a head-coach full of desire and a belief like every other head-coach that their side could go on to win the competition. The only difference being, I meant every word and I had the achievements to support my "ambitious" claims.

Following our victory against Denmark in the first warm-up game ahead of the World Cup, we would return to our base at St George's Park to resume training from Monday morning. On Thursday evening, we would prepare to head to Brighton the next morning to ready ourselves for our final warm-up game against New Zealand on Saturday at the Amex Stadium - a venue in which housed over 30,000 and was sold-out weeks ahead of the game, further proving that World Cup fever was taking over the nation. There were no further concerns for the game and everyone would remain available for selection. Those who hadn't featured against Denmark had the message reiterated to them that this would be their opportunity to shine. The attitude of everyone within the camp was second-to-none, they all wanted to prove why their ought to feature in our opening group game against Scotland - although admittedly, I would have been concerned if that wasn't the case.

Toni Duggan had made fantastic progress with her fitness. She returned to training the previous week and had been training excellently in order to prepare herself for as early as she possibly could. Toni had been working closely with the physiotherapy team, in whom assured me she was ready to make a return to the pitch in the upcoming clash against New Zealand. It was welcome news for myself and the squad, as Toni's quality is something that is difficult to replace, irrespective of how talented the squad you have at your disposal is. She is simply an elite player. However, I understood the risk that came with her return. I knew for certain that she couldn't be risked for the entirety of the next game and therefore she would be given limited minutes, in order to nurse her back to full match sharpness.

As promised, the squad was largely rotated for the visit of New Zealand. Carly Telford replaced Karen Bardsley in goal. Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton, Abbie McManus and Alex Greenwood all featured in the back-four with Lucy Staniforth and Kiera Walsh sitting ahead of them in the center of midfield, representing a change of system with our usual 4-3-3 formation being abandoned for a 4-2-3-1, instead. It was a decision in which I thought was necessary to readily prepare us for the challenges a World Cup brings. An ability to play a number of systems effectively was, quite simply, a necessary requirement. Nikita Parris retained her place in the team and was accompanied by the returning Toni Duggan and Fran Kirby. Jodie Taylor would complete the side, as she sought to spearhead our attack.

We controlled the tempo of the game excellently, dominating possession from the very first whistle to the very last. The ball continued to be worked into excellent areas of the pitch from a Lionesses perspective, however an inability to turn chances into goals plagued our front-line once again. I continued to grow increasingly animated with the players with every missed opportunity and was forced to retreat from the touchline as New Zealand took a surprise lead just five minutes into the second-half. I shook my head in disapproval towards my players as I placed myself back into my seat and called for Karen Carney to begin warming up. She would be our first change of the game and would replace the returning Duggan.

Upon her exit from the pitch, I gave a slight smile in Toni's direction. It was difficult to be too disheartened by her underwhelming return given she had only just returned from injury. Instead, my disappointment mainly lie with the rest of my squad. I felt as though we could have played for an extra ninety minutes and we still wouldn't have been any closer to finding the net. I barely acknowledged those who made-way within the final twenty to fifteen minutes. The players themselves understood why I acted in such a fashion and had no complaints. They themselves would be the first to concede the performance was simply not good enough on the day. There could be no excuses.

The final whistle sounded after further efforts on goal from a below-par England side failed to test Erin Nayler in the New Zealand goal. The Lionesses recorded fifteen shots and tellingly only found the target on four occasions. It was clear that something needed to be addressed and quickly ahead of the World Cup and the opening test against Scotland in a week's time. New Zealand, meanwhile, would head into their World Cup opener on 11th June against the Netherlands with confidence.

The only positive to take from such a worrying result was that it narrowed down the pool of players I would consider for selection against Scotland considerably.

Jack: I dread to think... I'm desperate to avoid any opportunities for him to create a pun, but he can seemingly create them from nothing.
MJK: You'll have to continue reading to find out! ;)
Griffo: Thank you mate. Looking forward to it!
Seb: Better late than never, eh?
the effort and quality of the writing need to be appreciated
great story so far, looking forward to next episode
Expecting Amie to end up at Clermont Foot in France who have hired two female managers in their past three appointments
Let's hope Belshaw can make sure England will be Duggan into the opposition a bit more in the World Cup
For starters...I am hopeful with that Syb pun he starts with your story and leaves mine alone now, if so good luck.

Secondly, great update once again. A poor performance but better to have that in the warm up than in the tournament itself. Hopefully with Duggan back in the team she can continue to prove her fitness and be a force in the World Cup.
Amie will get a job in Saudi I feel and break those barriers
2020-01-21 23:09#265632 MJK46 : Amie will get a job in Saudi I feel and break those barriers

Now THAT would be a story haha
Amie is coming for Phil Neville...
Maybe Amie should just give up after that result and become a pun-dit.
Disappointing result, but it was just a warm-up. I'm sure the tournament opener will go much better for Amie and her squad.

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