ลีอาห์ วิลเลียมสัน: อาการบาดเจ็บทำลายความหวังฟุตบอลโลกของอังกฤษแค่ไหน?
“Ultimately, I think it’s just my time.”
Leah Williamson gave a philosophical response to the news that her dream of winning the World Cup with England and the Champions League with Arsenal is, for this year at least, over.
The England captain has asked for “some quiet time to let it all sink in” after being ruled out for the foreseeable future with an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
But her club and international managers now face a monumental task in replacing a player who has had such a pivotal role in their recent success.
Sarina Wiegman will have to find a replacement at the heart of her England defence for this summer’s World Cup, while Williamson joins a long injury list at Arsenal at a crucial point of their season as they bid to reach the Champions League final and stay in the Women’s Super League’s top three.
What impact does her injury have on England?
Watching Williamson, 26, get injured was gut-wrenching for Lionesses fans who saw her grow from an unassuming defender to a leader and role model last summer.
She succeeded Steph Houghton as captain in April 2022 with manager Wiegman saying: “Leah has been a great leader for us and I know she will continue to set the example we need in her work on and off the pitch.”
Williamson went on to start every match and become the first England football captain to lift a major trophy since 1966.
“With Leah and her trajectory, she’s gone from zero to 100 in terms of how much she’s achieved in a such a short space of time,” former England midfielder Izzy Christiansen told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“The presence she had – especially at the Euros last summer – had such a positive impact on the team.”
During an astonishing 30-match unbeaten run with England, Williamson featured in 22 of the games, lifting four trophies in the process – two Arnold Clark Cups, the inaugural Finalissma and Euro 2022.
A mural was made in her hometown of Milton Keynes, she was awarded Freedom of the City and made an OBE after the Euros. Williamson even brought out a book titled You have the Power in her efforts to inspire the next generation.
|Appearances – 6||Appearances – 12|
|Minutes played – 484||Minutes played – 822|
|Successful passes – 518||Successful passes – 559|
|Chances created – 4||Chances created – 15|
|Interceptions – 6||Interceptions – 13|
The respect she garners from her England team-mates also speaks volumes.
“She is a leader – not just on the pitch but off it as well,” says Manchester City winger Lauren Hemp. “She’s such a calm head.
“I know whenever I’m struggling in a game, Leah is someone I will always look to as she’ll be level-headed and will make me feel more relaxed. I really respect her as a player and a person.”
But for all her influence off the pitch, it is her performances on it that have taken her to the top of the game.
“The biggest compliment I can give her right now is how difficult the challenge is for her managers – Jonas Eidevall at Arsenal and Sarina Wiegman at England – to replace her,” said Christiansen.
“She’s a massive loss to both England and Arsenal in terms of playing style at such a crucial stage of the season.”
The ball-playing defender, who missed two months with a foot injury earlier in the season, has formed a strong centre-back partnership with Millie Bright for her country.
She also brings versatility, having proved an effective option in midfield which Wiegman will now have to do without at the World Cup.
How might Wiegman replace Williamson?
England’s success under Wiegman has largely been built on consistency, but there is now a possibility five of last summer’s Euro-winning starting XI will not be in Australia for the World Cup.
Alongside injured Arsenal pair Beth Mead and Williamson, Chelsea’s Fran Kirby last played in January and Bright was on crutches with a knee issue picked up in March. Record scorer Ellen White retired in the summer.
The Lionesses manager did not change her team once during their Euro 2022 success and relied on “super-subs” Alessia Russo, Ella Toone and Chloe Kelly to make an impact off the bench.
Williamson’s addition to a growing injury list means squad depth is becoming thin with players who would have acted as this summer’s subs now filling roles in the starting XI.
Manchester City’s Alex Greenwood – who made five substitute appearances at Euro 2022 – plays centre-back for her club and is a possible replacement for Williamson.
However, Greenwood has become England’s preferred left-back in 2023 so moving her would create another problem.
Aston Villa’s Rachel Daly was the starting full-back last summer but has been used as a number nine for club and country this season, acting as understudy to main striker Russo.
If Daly returned to left-back, it could leave England with just Russo as a centre-forward option but Tottenham top-scorer Bethany England could be recalled despite being left out of recent squads.
A simpler solution would be to turn to youth, replacing Williamson at centre-back with Arsenal’s Lotte Wubben-Moy, 24, Manchester United’s Maya le Tissier, 21, or West Ham’s Lucy Parker, 24.
But with several experienced players already out, could former captain Houghton, 34, return to Wiegman’s squad?