Within minutes of sitting down and talking to Leah Williamson, you begin to understand why she was given the job. She says her mother describes her as “aggressive” — and for the record, prefers “assertive” — and classmate Jill Scott described her as “cold and emotionless.”
But today, Williamson is friendly, warm, and funny. It’s probably no coincidence that she uses the word “balance” a lot as we speak, because Williamson seems to be her embodiment – shrewd, sober, honest, and perhaps most importantly real. You’ll need that and more as you prepare to lead the lionesses in what could be a defining few months in their lives and the lives of their teammates.
In the absence of injured Steve Houghton – who is now fit and back in the squad – coach Sarina Wegmann has turned to Williamson to become England’s captain. The Arsenal player hasn’t started at any major tournament and she’s not her captain, but Wigman has been influenced by Williamson’s progress over the years, both physically and mentally. The manager says of his captain: “It’s the same and it won’t be different when you wear the armband. »
The memorable first meeting between Williamson and Wiegman may also have influenced the director’s decision. Williamson describes her relationship with Wegman as “very honest”. The defender recounted the first time they met: “I did not hold back, I said it like that. I was shocked. »
Williamson talks about being overly critical of herself. She wants to set the standard and draw on the expertise of someone who has led her team to European glory at home, as Wegmann did with the Netherlands in 2017.
“She has an aura, she knows what she’s talking about,” Williamson says. “It makes me nervous and angry. I want to impress him, which motivates me to do more.”
“We talked about where we want to go and what we want to be. We haven’t found the right balance as a team and we want to put everything into something.”
Again the word “balance”. Williamson and her team talked about how lucky they are to play in a home tournament as the women’s game has evolved. They know the pressure it will bring, but the leader is determined to “find balance” within the team, while enjoying the experience.
Williamson’s ability to segment has certainly helped strike that balance in the past. She loves football, she says, because she is able to pick up where she left off the day before.
“I’ve always seen that as a strength to stop it,” Williamson says. “I am fortunate to have always played for a team that is close to my family, and I am very close to it. Some girls go around the world and you are on your own, so how do you separate from football?
“I wonder, though, if there’s an advantage to turning it on. Did I miss something? I’d never force it—I’ll follow how I feel. That’s how I feel right now. If you really think about it, while you don’t touch the ground, you don’t deteriorate.” I’ve seen more negative effects from overusing it.
Having a busy social diary with many interests outside of football certainly contributes to the harmony in Williamson’s life. She took a break from the Women’s Super League season to rest in the US, then moved to Italy and sat front row at the Gucci Fashion Show.
“I never do anything I don’t want to do,” Williamson insists. “I have other interests, and I have things that make me happy. If my grandmother calls me and says, ‘I have tickets to a concert tonight,’ I’ll go. I’m going to watch The Killers with her. We go to concerts all the time.”
“When I look back on my life, I would be a footballer and realize that this is a short time to make an impact in my sport, but I also have a full life to live and this time for me is just as important.”
The revelation that Williamson went to a rock concert with her grandmother calls for clarification, but it confirms that, yes, they will indeed be watching The Killers together. “I get a lot from what I am,” Williamson says of her grandmother. “She is living her life the way she wants to live it. This does not mean that she is not focused on her job.”
We talk about that goal and how difficult it is to strike a balance as a fashion-loving athlete. Wearing green Gucci pants doesn’t make her any less of a soccer player.
“I know I’m a role model and I care about how I present myself,” she says. “I don’t want people to see me badly, but I am thick enough to know that I take care of my football and my performance. Sometimes I will have a bad day, but it is not directly related, and if it is, I will not.”
Over the next few weeks, this thicker skin may only need to grow a layer or two with lionesses taking center stage, however, screening will intensify. Williamson may be relatively unknown at the moment, and to prove the point, she talks about an important management on her way to the team meeting while donning an England tracksuit, and no one has ever given her a second look.
Williamson admits, however, that she is wary of the pressures that may lie ahead. “It’s an integral part of it,” she says. “I’m not sure anyone would be ready for this, but if it means our game has reached new heights and future generations have something to look forward to, it will be well worth it.”
England captain Harry Kane knows the pressures of leading a European Championship at home, having led the team on their run to the Euro 2020 final against Italy at Wembley last year. Kane watched the women train at St. George’s Park last week, and Williamson said: “I’ve never met Harry, but it would be great to talk to him about it. I’m fortunate that Steve is on the team now and there are a lot of people with experience that I don’t have. I want to I learn and absorb it like a sponge.
“I can’t describe the feeling around the tournament and its scale. I don’t think anyone is really ready to grow. Our game sometimes develops very quickly and unexpectedly and exceeds all expectations as it jumps from strength to strength.”
If tournament ticket sales are any indication – the final at Wembley sold out in less than an hour – this summer could be a huge deal for women’s football. Williamson says she has been a huge fan of soccer her whole life and hopes they can give the nation something to be proud of and be excited about this summer.
In 2018, looking at [men’s] “The World Cup was the best summer of my life,” says Williamson. “Then the following year was ours [Women’s World Cup] And to be on the other side of playing in the World Cup and knowing what’s going on at home was great.
“Knowing that this is our chance to do what they’re doing [men’s team] Last year in the eurozone, to give people those memories, it’s a beautiful feeling. Nothing beats going to the pub or wherever and watching football together – it’s our English culture. »
Although Scott described their captain as “cold”, you can expect a tear or two in the opening game of the tournament when England face Austria at the all-sold-out Old Trafford on July 6, says Williamson.
“Everyone says I’m cold – Jill Scott says that all the time,” she admits. “I don’t show feelings often, but what matters is, I really care a lot. There have been a lot of tears in my career and I think this will be one of those moments.”
After nearly two decades of trying to get where she is now, who would blame her? While Williamson and her lieutenants aim to become story makers, she says, “I’ve been thinking about it since I was 6. I’ve always wanted to make my mark and as a team, the legacy we’re starting to create is so powerful.”
“I am very fortunate. I started this journey with people who had to work two jobs, and now I am part of a team where we are all professionals. I am so grateful and proud of the way we represent this team today. We know where we come from, which is important to me.” , but we all like to leave the game knowing we put a glass in the cupboard.
“We’re all talking about the men’s team that had all those guys who never won everything – the ‘golden generation.’ You don’t want to be that team. You also know you can’t do it in a jiffy. You don’t know what’s going to happen either. This is the beauty of football and why we love it.
“It’s one of those – would you dare to dream?” But also, you have to take care of everyday things. »
It’s another balancing act that the England captain seems to have already mastered.