Chamberlain's message for United's Lionesses

Friday 18 August 2023 17:45

“It's not every day anyone gets to play in a World Cup final, so it's a fantastic opportunity and it's important that these players don't just go out there and play, but enjoy the moment, enjoy the occasion and rise to it.”

That’s the message from former Manchester United and England goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain to our players in the Lionesses camp, ahead of the FIFA Women’s World Cup final against Spain.

Mary Earps, Ella Toone and Katie Zelem are all set to be in the squad for Sunday's showpiece clash at Stadium Australia (11:00 BST KO), and we’ll be cheering them on, as they look to follow up last summer’s Euro 2022 success by bringing the global trophy home from Down Under.

Chamberlain, a team-mate of our three aforementioned international stars during her time as a Red, has followed their respective journeys at the club during her time as a pundit with MUTV, and knows the Women’s World Cup inside and out, having experienced three editions of the tournament as an England player.

We were therefore keen to learn how she’s feeling ahead of the Lionesses’ first-ever appearance in the final, what she’s made of Earps, Toone and Zelem's tournaments so far and what her message would be to our trio before the big game.

There’s all that and more in this exclusive pre-match chat with Siobhan, which you can read in full below… 

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Siobhan, first of all, how much confidence do you think that victory over Australia in the semi-final will have given our players and the rest of the Lionesses going into Sunday’s game?
“Loads of confidence. I think obviously they didn’t have the best of starts to the tournament, but ultimately in tournament football, so long as you get the victories and you get out the group, it's really just about knockout football. It doesn't need to look good, you just have to win. They did the pretty side of it by getting all the goals against China, it was very nerve-wracking against Nigeria, and then against Colombia, it was a little bit more comfortable but not fully. And then yeah, the semi-final against Australia, they stepped it up another level and they're going to need to go up another level if they're going to get the victory against Spain at the weekend.”

In an interview after the win over Australia, Ella Toone talked about wanting to win for everyone back home, but she also mentioned doing it for former players as well, people who have been to tournaments previously in the past. As a former player who's represented England at World Cups, do you really feel that as well?
“Yeah, of course, that kind of recognition is great. There are so many players who have been there before, even before I was involved, who never really got the recognition and never got the support that these players have got now. And it's brilliant to see them get that now. For the younger girls that are now watching and aspiring to be players, they know that platform is there for them. They know that they can dream of being a Lioness, they can dream of, hopefully come Sunday, being a world champion like 23 of their role models. So, it's brilliant. It's important to recognise what's been there previously because that's what's helped these girls get to where they've got to. But full credit to them at how well they've kind of embraced this tournament and taken it by the scruff of the neck now, really, and going out there to hopefully win on Sunday.”
We imagine that you’re immensely proud of them as a former Lioness and team-mate of some members of the squad. What are your thoughts on how the United players in the team have done, they’ve all had different journeys in this tournament, haven’t they? Ella Toone obviously started the tournament playing in the first 11 against Haiti and Denmark and then had that little period out of the team and has come back and really taken her opportunity…
“Yeah, definitely. I don’t think she could have hit that ball any sweeter than she did against Australia, it was an absolutely brilliant goal. It looked like it was smashed into that top corner with a feeling of: ‘I'll show you what I can do,' as if she hadn't been given as much credit as she maybe deserved. She hasn't had the best of tournaments in terms of what we sometimes expect from Ella Toone. We know she comes up with big goals in big moments and that was her opportunity then to say: ‘Look, this is what I can do. If you give me the chance, I'll go out there and do it. I've scored in quarter finals, semi-finals, finals, Finalissimas. I do it on the big stage and I'll do it again for you.’"

It speaks a lot about her resilience and character, doesn't it? Maya Le Tissier spoke on Wednesday about the mentality that Ella has and how hard she works behind the scenes.That moment on the big stage again was like her reward, wasn’t it?
“Yes, I think the level is so competitive now throughout the squad, how professional it is, it's stepped up so many levels over the past few years. You've got to be at the top of your game to be considered to be anywhere near this squad. You've got to be like a 24/7 athlete, you've got to live and breathe football, to be the best that you can be and to put yourself up there to compete with everybody else that's doing exactly the same, and Ella Toone’s doing just that. And that's why she's reaping the rewards right now.”
Another player that you could say is reaping the rewards in this tournament is Katie Zelem. Making her World Cup debut, a dream come true, after she missed out unfortunately on the Euros last year. Every time you see her at this tournament, she seems to have a smile on her face! She’s obviously intensely focused as well, but she really looks like she's thriving in that tournament environment…
“She does and I think that’s credit to [England head coach] Sarina Wiegman, she knows how to manage her squad of players. When you go to a tournament, you know that different players have different roles, different responsibilities, will get different amounts of playing time. And look, Katie Zelem will know that Keira Walsh is the starting player in that position, but she also knows that she is fully prepared if anything were to happen to Keira like it did against Denmark. Zel came in and did a fantastic job in that China game and I'm sure she'll be frustrated to have not got more game time after that, but we also know that Sarina Wiegman is very consistent in what she does and Zel’s absolutely loving it out there. I think that's partly because she's given the respect from Sarina Wiegman that they understand their roles and their responsibilities, and she's obviously had conversations with her and she knows where she stands. She's also had her opportunity to play. It makes a big difference when you go to a tournament and you actually get that game time, even if it's only five minutes, 10 minutes, it makes you feel more of a part of it. And that's really important for her.”

Someone who's obviously had that game time is Mary Earps. She’s become a mainstay now in this England team, she's played every minute at the tournament, and it's been another solid tournament for her as well. What’s the key to consistent goalkeeping at these tournaments and in international football?
“I think a lot of it is mentality. It's also focus, it's making sure that you're never taking your eye off the ball. As I said before, there's competition for places and that's the same with the goalkeeping position as well. So, she knows she's got to be playing at her best. She's enjoying her football at Manchester United, she's got a great relationship with her goalkeeping coach, Ian Wilcock, and I think that's key to developing your abilities as an individual and developing your skillset. And you can see how much she's improved over the last three or four years. Obviously her fantastic performances in the Euros deserved all the accolades that she's got. Mary's not had loads and loads to do in this tournament, which you wouldn't expect from an England goalkeeper, but when she's been asked to come up with big saves and big moments she has done, and that's what you want and what you need from your goalkeeper. And she's going to be vital in the final as well.”
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You know what it's like to make history at a World Cup for England, as a member of the team that won bronze in Canada in 2015. In terms of the build-up to big tournament matches, from what you remember, what do you think the players in the camp at the moment will be feeling ahead of this final? Obviously, it's another chance to make even more history, but what do you think they'll be feeling now? Will they be completely focused on the task at hand? Will there be nerves?
“There’s bound to be a few nerves, but I'd like to think it's excitement more than anything. I think Sarina does a brilliant job of keeping them all level-headed, keeping them all grounded. And I think they can afford to take that breath. Not relax in terms of taking their eye off the game but take that deep breath to say we finally got there. Yes, they want to go that one step further, but actually getting to that final was the huge hurdle that they hadn't achieved over the last few cycles. So to finally get there is a moment of saying: ‘We've done it, we've got there.’ Then it's about going out there and enjoying it, embracing the moment. It's not every day anyone gets to play in a World Cup final, so it's a fantastic opportunity and it's important that these players don't just go out there and play, but enjoy the moment, enjoy the occasion and rise to it.”

So, just finally then, England in a World Cup final. It's obviously amazing but how much are you looking forward to it and what would your message be to the squad, and particularly our players who are involved?
“Yeah, I can't wait to watch it! I'm really excited. I think the message would be to just enjoy it, enjoy the moment, embrace it, take in every memory, and hopefully make sure that by the end of those 90 minutes, 120 minutes, penalties, that the memories are positive ones.”