Like Hope Powell before him, Phil Neville has a job on his hands. He is the second acting England manager tasked with leading Team GB at the Olympic Games. With a reduced squad cap for the tournament – down from 23 to 18 with four additional reserves available – players from all corners of the United Kingdom will be crossing various body parts in hopes of representing Team Great Britain. [And as many who suited up in 2012 will attest, being part of TeamGB was one of the proudest and best experiences of their respective careers.]
Women’s football fans in England are already happily vocal about players they feel that Neville is overlooking for the England squad. Neville is a coach with the complicated task of managing one national team as they keep ticking over ahead of the 2021 European Championships, as well as trying to keep everyone from each of the four United Kingdom national teams in mind for next summer’s Olympics.
The job is complicated further by Team GB’s limbo-like state; Neville won’t have camps available to him to bring in and test out players as they have qualification commitments with their respective nations in the available FIFA windows before next summer. Arranging friendlies for TeamGB seems like a headache wrapped in a migraine so any players the coach brings in will have to get settled in the blink of an eye.
But who could turn out for Great Britain in Tokyo from outside of England?
With two (!) Scottish players in the 18 selected for London 2012, and the higher placing of Scotland in the FIFA rankings than Wales or Northern Ireland, as well as the professional status boasted by many within the team, it’s likely the bulk of the non-English representation will come from the north of the British isles.
Although there’s already strong competition for goalkeeper places in the England team, it’s not that far from reality that Lee Alexander could find herself called in – even just as a reserve. The 27-year-old gave a strong account of herself during Scotland’s first two group games at the World Cup this summer and has comfortably filled the oversized boots Gemma Fay left behind (after 203 caps) following her retirement in 2017.
Just like between the sticks, England seems to have one too many options at centre-back at the moment and it may be a case that Neville calls in Jennifer Beattie for her history of playing alongside Steph Houghton for Manchester City. The rangy defender boasts a versatility and ability to play in defensive midfield that would be more attractive to a manger with a reduced squad size.
The midfield and attack is where Scottish players could thrive for Great Britain with Kim Little, Lucy Graham, Caroline Weir and Erin Cuthbert all viable options. Having represented GB in 2012, Little could be one of the handful of players who make it to the next squad. Her brilliance in midfield is well known around the world but whether or not Neville knows how to utilise her is a quite different question.
Graham is a personal wildcard; the young attacker had a profitable first season in England with Bristol City and is primed to be a vital player for Everton this coming season. If she can keep her form up and impressing on the pitch, she would bring something entirely different to TeamGB.
Like Beattie, Weir has the benefit of having played not just in England, but for Manchester City – a club that currently boasts the most England internationals – and could be seen as a safe inclusion due to pre-existing partnerships with her potential teammates. Weir is also that slice of something different, the neeps to the English tatties (sorry), a player who can move around midfield but remains a creative outlet.
As it stands at this moment in time, before the 2019-20 season has kicked off, Cuthbert seems the most likely non-English player to make the squad and her omission would likely raise eyebrows. The 21-year-old really came into herself over the course of last season, racking up the minutes for Chelsea and impressing whenever she was on the pitch, the attacker one of the brightest sparks for Scotland in a disappointing World Cup campaign.
Whilst there are a handful of players who would certainly be in consideration for a squad of 23, it’s hard to see which, if any, Dragons would make the grade. For players like Reading duo Angharad James and Natasha Harding and Welsh captain, Sophie Ingle it may be too hard to stand out from the pack. Although, depending on how Neville plans to set his team up and the form and fitness of those fans are used to seeing for England, a player like Ingle could be brought along for similar reasons to Beattie.
The two that are likely to be in consideration are Jess Fishlock and Wales’ much underrated shot-stopper, Laura O’Sullivan. For Fishlock, there is no question when it comes to where she stands in Welsh football history and she remains half a step ahead of half of the players she takes to the pitch with into her thirties. However, like former Reign FC teammate Little, Fishlock may very well be a player that Neville doesn’t quite know how to utilise which could equate to a second Olympic snub.
England fans and players might still have flashbacks to O’Sullivan’s goalkeeping heroics at St Mary’s in World Cup qualifying last year. The unassuming Welsh number one was fast written-off, regarded by those who don’t follow her as having the game of her career against the Lionesses. However, the 28-year-old is one of the silent stars of Jayne Ludlow’s team and could conceivably emulate Rachel Brown-Finnis and become TeamGB’s next number one.
Currently ranked 59 in the world, Northern Ireland are still a long way from making waves on the world or even just the European stage. The smallest nation of the four, with fewer recognisable names in the squad, few players in Kenny Shiels’ team are likely to even make the radar when it comes to scouting.
Simone Magill and even Rachel Newborough may pop up as names to be thrown around but Magill would need to have a stand-out season for Everton whereas Newborough may very well develop into a player to be discussed should TeamGB qualify for France 2024.
The one player in the Green and White Army who could yet be the surprise inclusion is 31-year-old Rachel Furness. Despite being around English football since her childhood having been born in the English North East, Furness’ career was given a shot in the arm when she moved south to Reading in 2017. Keeping her full-time status from the short-lived professional Sunderland team, the midfielder flourished for the Royals as they adapted to life in the top flight. Adaptable in midfield and remorseless in her tackles, Furness has a number of analogous qualities to her current and former teammates who’ve represented England at senior level.