Monday, August 8, 2022

From Blackburn to Bayern, the rise of England star Georgia Stanway, who ‘just wanted the ball’

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Stanway has become one of the stars of England’s home Euros, having spent her early years at Blackburn and Manchester City before joining Bayern Munich this summer

For the first time in an agonizing 96 minutes, Spain had given her an irrational amount of space; She picked up the ball near the center circle and carried it to the edge of the box to send England through to the semi-finals of the Euros.

Georgia Stanway had just raised the roof inside the Amex, but she was probably the only person on the floor who couldn’t quite understand what she had just done.

“I honestly don’t know why I shot,” she admitted, despite encouragement from her England team-mates to try her luck more ahead of the tournament. The only pity was that she had no idea which phase of the overtime it was. “I remember saying to one of the girls, ‘At what moment did we actually meet?'”

Stanway’s form was one of the unexpected triumphs of the Lionesses tournament, but it comes as no surprise to those who’ve followed her development. They include Blackburn Rovers manager Gemma Donnelly, who chose her to be the first coach for a senior team when she was 16 – a call that paid off immediately.

“I don’t know the numbers, but well beyond the top scorer,” says Donnelly I. “The decision was made because she was a prolific goalscorer and we wanted to see how she would fare against women.

“She didn’t mind, she got kicked for being so small, but she rose to the challenges and jumped out of them.”

Blackburn’s academy has become famous not least because the club’s center of excellence has produced three of the current Lionesses squad in Keira Walsh, Ella Toone and Stanway.

“Georgia played up top, a 10, 9, 7 or even an 8 because it allowed her to get ahead,” adds Donnelly. “She was fast, confident in her ability and whether you rated her as a 7 or an 11, she switched to the other side to get the ball. She always wanted to stay on the ball.

“It fizzles out now when I see them play, but in their early days [next club] City, when she was a bit stubborn and hit out, we saw that too!”

Her versatility came into play at Manchester City, where boss Gareth Taylor used her for a stint at right-back and left-back. Crucially, he also helped improve her role in the center of the pitch, picking her up from the low point of her 2021-22 season when she was sent off for a horror challenge in the Manchester derby.

After Stanway got over it, the second half of the season helped her get a move to FC Bayern Munich.

“Georgia has played a great tournament so far and we are very happy with their performance,” says Bianca Rech, sporting director of FC Bayern I.

“She is a very flexible player who can create and score goals. She is a player who has developed a lot over the past two years and with her style of play, her character on and off the pitch is the right player for FC Bayern Munich.”

After seven years and the same number of trophies at City, she said moving to the women’s Bundesliga “just felt right”. Her boyfriend, rugby league player Olly Ashall-Bott, with whom she started carp fishing in her spare time, recently made his own move to the continent after signing for Toulouse.

Stanway, who got her first taste of football with the Furness Rovers boys’ team in Cumbria, where she grew up, follows an emerging trend in this camp in England. Eight of the current squad have played outside of England, at least at youth level.

“It helps you grow as a person and understand what you like from a lifestyle and culture perspective,” explains former England goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis, who has spent part of her career in the United States and Iceland I.

“And from a footballing point of view you get the style of play, the go-to tactics of different countries versus others. It adds insight to Sarina Wiegman and that is invaluable. If you look at the Italy squad for example, the majority play in Italy and don’t have that experience – so it can only benefit the whole team.”

Stanway was named player of the match against Austria and scored a penalty against Norway. Stanway’s goal against Spain was the moment she received praise from her England counterpart Declan Rice, who tweeted that she was a “baller” – which she admitted was “pretty surreal”.

Stanway reveals that this was one of the few messages the Lionesses received from “the guys who were involved last year [when England’s men reached the final of Euro 2020]. They give us tips on the dynamics, move it forward and just really support us.”

That’s why Wiegman weighs for the semi-finals – whether to keep Rachel Daly at left-back, how to accommodate Ellen White and where to get the most out of Lauren Hemp – she has no doubts about her midfield pairing.

Next is Sweden, who have their own WSL stars already well known to the England squad. Peter Gerhardsson’s side are the highest-ranked team in the tournament but strangely find themselves underdogs ahead of the clash at Bramall Lane.

That speaks to the dynamic behind England, which Stanway played a big part in creating.

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