Lars Baron - FIFA Team spirit: England players and staff celebrate with coach Mark Sampson at the world cup
When Mark Sampson assembled England’s women footballers this week, for the first time since their ground-breaking Word Cup adventure, an uncomfortable thought struck him.
“This lot, ” thought the dapper young Welshman, “are just about famous enough to be asked on Celebrity Big Brother..”
Sampson’s Lionesses were the feelgood hit of the sporting summer – following up a heartbreaking semi-final defeat by Japan with a bronze-medal victory over Germany and gaining genuine respect for the women’s game.
Unheralded amateurs just a couple of years ago, they found themselves front-page news for their heroics in Canada – with one of their stars, Fran Kirby, soon moving to Chelsea for £60, 000.
Record breaker: Fran Kirby (left) moved to Chelsea for a record fee after her World Cup performances
So when the England squad met up, for Monday's opening Euro 2017 qualifier in Estonia, Sampson wanted to check how they had found their newfound fame.
He said: “The first thing we did was share experiences of what’s changed for us all – like getting recognised on the streets, being invited to events.
“But I said to the girls ‘we are Z-listers, it won’t be long before you’re being invited on Celebrity Big Brother’ – and I don’t want that! Our players are marketable now but you can’t get too big time.”
Midfielder Jo Potter said she had been mistaken for team-mate Karen Carney by a shopper in Aldi but it seems as though Sampson’s team are keeping their feet on terra firma.
In pictures: Prince William congratulates England women's team at Kensington Palace
Sampson is a 32-year-old career coach with previous experience running Swansea’s centre of excellence under Roberto Martinez – ‘earning peanuts, working from 6am until midnight but a great environment to learn my trade’.
After a successful stint with Bristol Academy in the women’s top flight, he was a surprise choice to replace Hope Powell two years ago – but his appointment paid off in Canada.
Sampson may be too humble to lecture Roy Hodgson but he did come up with a formula for what has become a holy grail in English football – tournament over-achievement.
The tinkerman employed all but one of his 23-woman squad – and he believes this approach could be beneficial in the intensity of a men’s tournament at the end of a gruelling domestic season.
History: England's players celebrate their 1-0 win over Germany in the bronze medal match in Canada
He said: “What works for my group might not work for Roy’s but there are principles you can follow.
“Looking at tournament football differently is the big challenge, there is usually only a three-day turnaround, including travel and rest time.
"It’s an intense environment and you have to involve the group in taking ownership of what we were going to do.
“We were very clear that we were going to make changes. We had the courage to plan to win a tournament, we took a calculated risk, we made eight changes in a group match against Colombia and knew that if we didn’t win, we would either be going home or, best-case scenario, flying seven hours to play the best team in the world, the USA.
Legacy: Stars like Manchester City and England's Toni Duggan are heroines to a whole new generation of girls
“But we knew in order to compete in the latter stages, some players needed to be rested, physically or emotionally.
"It comes down to strength in depth, we had players we felt we could bring in without our performance level reducing.”
Sampson insists his players are relishing their role as trailblazers, believing they have become heroines to young girls aiming to make a career in the game.
He said: “Our legacy, as well as winning a trophy, is that the general footballing public will have hopefully have a real appreciation of the women’s game.
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