The girl with all the skills and tricks

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She holds two Guinness World Records and has travelled all around the globe showing off her skills, but one of the most important things to Football Freestyler Laura Biondo is to be a role model to girls looking to play football.

I learned about the 24-year-old when I saw her on a programme that Sky Sports did last year following a British freestyler all over the world as he met and interviewed some of the most skilful people with a footballer you are ever likely to see.

Laura was one of the people he came across on his travels, and the Venezuelan, who now resides in Italy, can certainly compete with the best of the best.

She is ranked in the top four girls in the world in freestyle football and has also finished in the top four of the Red Bull Street Style finals.

If you fancy having a go at one of Laura’s World records, she can do 1,800 headed keep ups in ten minutes – the challenge awaits you!

I managed to have a quick catch up with the skilful young lady, which was some effort considering her constant travelling to entertain the adoring freestyle fans.

I cannot stress how good this girl is! After you’ve read this short interview, I’d really recommend logging onto YouTube and checking out her videos – pure class.

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1.When was it you realised you had the skill to freestyle?

I started to freestyle at the end of 2007-begining 2008, although I did play football before and practiced several skill drills. 

2. How do you overcome boys/men, who don’t think girls should freestyle?

I respect their opinion, but I believe they should learn to open their minds as us girls can bring a lot to this sport and even things they can learn from.  

3. What is the best and worst thing about freestyling?

The best has to be the community. We are like a huge family that even if oceans divide us, we feel the unity. The worst thing – there is nothing

4. What’s the most interesting place you’ve been able to freestyle?

I was lucky enough to perform at the Colosseum in Rome. Unfortunately, the director who filmed me performing had issues with his computer hard drive, and the video was lost.

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5. Did you ever have a chance to play football for a club?

Yes, I played in USA and in Italy.

6. Do you have any female football role models? If so, who?

Yes, my football role model is the US Women’s National Team’s Mia Hamm.

7. What is your biggest achievement so far?

Being a reference point for many girls, two Guinness World Records and being one of the top four girls in the world.

8. What are your hopes for the future with freestyling?

Become a role model for girls and inspire them to not be afraid or intimidated to practice a sport where men are the dominating sex, because we are also capable of reaching our goals and dreams.

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From Plymouth to Alabama – Chloe’s journey to becoming pro

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When you score 50 goals in one season for any club at any level, you are going to be noticed for the achievement.

Messi has done it, Ronaldo has done it, but so has former Plymouth Argyle striker, Chloe Roberts, who found herself being offered a scholarship to play football in America at the University of North Alabama a few years ago.

The 22-year-old has just come to the end of a four years stint at the southern state university, but she has certainly left her mark on the facility’s history books.

Chloe is now deciding on the next step of her career after she was unfortunately overlooked in last week’s NWSL college draft. However, don’t think that the girl from the southwest has given up her dream of playing professionally – far from it.

I caught up with her this week to find out what life in the U.S has been like, writing her name in the history books, and where next for the hotshot striker.

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Tell us how life in Alabama has been compared to your home in Plymouth

Life in Alabama has been a life changing experience. Moving to the USA to play soccer and get an education was a dream of mine, so when I got offered a scholarship to attend The University of North Alabama, there was only one thing in my mind and that was to pursue my dream and love for the game.

It is a lot different to my hometown Plymouth, but I feel it is has shaped me into a better person in many ways. Moving across the other-side of the world at 18 was not easy, but one I do not regret. I have met some incredible people here in Alabama over my four years, which has made my life here so enjoyable.

You finished as the college’s second all time scorer with 93 goals. That’s some return. How pleasing is it to have that written in the record books?

Holding the record of 93 goals at the University of North Alabama is one I never thought I would achieve. I play for the love of the game. I just want to win. Goals, assists and records are bonuses.

This is a record I am very proud to hold at this amazing University. It has been an honour to put on the jersey for the last four years. One main reason I was able to achieve this is due to my teammates I have played with. Every single teammate has had an impact on every goal I have scored, so I owe a huge thank you to each and every one of them! I don’t only need to thank my teammates, but everyone involved at The University of North Alabama for their amazing support.

How has your game developed since moving to the States and do you ever wish you’d stayed in England?

My game has developed in many ways. I feel by playing soccer day in day out, practicing and playing games, I have managed to develop technically and physically over the years, putting in the extra hard work to get better. I try and put myself in the best position to make an impact on the field with a never give up attitude.

I don’t regret moving to America as I feel I have a lot to be proud of, and am very glad I followed this dream of mine. Its hard to look back and think what would have happened if I stayed in England, but I couldn’t have wished to achieve has much as I have here in America.

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What is it about scholarships in America that are so appealing?

What appealed to me was the opportunity to pursue a life changing experience. Moving across the other side of the world appeals to a lot of people, especially to play a sport you love. Being offered a scholarship to help with schooling to get a degree, and to play soccer every single day is something that anyone would be hard to turn down.

It gives an individual a sense of independence, an opportunity to meet new people and a chance to make your family proud.

The NWSL draft took place last week and sadly, like a lot of players, you were not drafted. What now for you?

Not being drafted was obviously a disappointment but it doesn’t mean I am giving up. I am very happy for all the individuals that did get drafted, and I wish them all the very best of luck in the new league as they deserve to be there.

My dream is to become professional one day and I believe I can. I know it is hard for a team to take a chance on a division two player, but I do have a lot to offer. I will now sit and look at my options and go from there. I will continue to work hard every single day to put myself in the best possible position if an opportunity does arise. I feel I need someone to take a chance on me so I can at least prove what I have got and can give to a team.

My love for the game is something that makes me never want to give up. Playing soccer day in day out is a perfect life for me and I will go to above and beyond to achieve it.

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Do you think this league can be sustainable? We’ve seen previous leagues in America collapse – so what makes this one different?

I feel this league will be sustainable simply because of how everyone seems to be so excited and motivated to making this league work. I feel that it has to so that Women’s soccer can continue to grow here in America, and all over the world.

What do you think the game in England could lean from that in the States?

I don’t really know what England could learn from the USA. Every team and league is different and successful in its own way. I feel the English league is a great league to be a part of, just like any other league in the world.

Who are your footballing heroes, male and female? Would you consider a move back to England to play in the WSL?

I have many footballing heroes, both male and female in different ways. Too many to name, as i look up to many footballers to strive to be like them. I would consider a move back to England if going back home was the best option. Like I said I will continue to work hard and see what opportunities arise. I am not ruling out anything.

In an interview you did for the BBC a few years ago, you mentioned you were involved with he England under-20s. Do you still have ambitions to represent your country?

Representing your country is an honour. Of course that is still my ambition to play for them again. Maybe one day it will happen, I just have to keep working hard.

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World Player of the year should go to golden girl Morgan

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The Women’s World Player of the Year is to be announced tomorrow (January 7) at a glitzy ceremony in Zurich, with the who’s who of world football invited to attend.

On November 29th, a list of nominated players for the coveted award was narrowed down to a final three, with one or two perceiving the list as slightly controversial.

The initial short list, which like the male award is now a three horse race, consisted of players from all over the globe, but did have one worthy absentee – the golden girl of 2012 in this country, England’s Steph Houghton.

Houghton will consider herself unfortunate to have not made the list of nine players, but she has been toppled in the bad luck league by Canada’s Christine Sinclair.

The country’s star striker is considered to be one of the best players in the world, and after a hat-trick in the semi-final of a major competition, you’d think she would have had a fair chance!

However, this year’s award will be contested by American duo Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, and five time winner of the award from Brazil, Marta.

Some inside the women’s game have questioned the omission of Sinclair, with BBC Radio 4 even having journalist Jacqui Oatley on air to talk about it.

However, let’s focus on those in, and not those unfortunate to miss out.

This is my insight into the three candidates, and views are my own, not those of anyone else.

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One of the most decorated stars in the women’s game, Marta is a player who has the attributes that make her one of the greatest players of all time.

The Brazilian forward, on her day, is unstoppable, and this has been recognised by those at FIFA after she was named World Player of the Year five times between 2006 and 2010. Her run came to an end after Japan’s Homare Sawa beat her to the award last year.

Despite her past achievements and personal accolades, Marta has never been able to drive her team onto win a major competition, finishing runner-up at two Olympic Games and one World Cup.

The year 2012 wasn’t exactly an overwhelming success for Marta, which is why some were surprised to see her nominated alongside the two Americans.

Just two goals came in the London 2012 Olympics, both against Cameroon, who were arguably one of the minnows of the competition.

She was marked out of the game at Wembley when Brazil lost 1-0 to Team GB, while she was unable to prevent her side being knocked out by Japan in the quarterfinal of the competition.

Domestically, it was a better season for the Brazilian forward, as she was able to help her Swedish club, Tyresö FF, to their first Swedish league title.

However, this wasn’t enough for her to be considered Sweden’s elite player, as she was piped to the title of Player of the Year by Germany’s Anja Mittag, as well as losing out to the title of Best Forward – again to Mittag.

Marta’s class is there for everyone to see, but her inclusion surprised many, and it will be an even bigger surprise if she is walking out of Zurich with a trophy.

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Words fail to describe America’s veteran striker!

She doesn’t age, she doesn’t show signs of slowing up, despite being 32, and she certainly doesn’t seem to be losing her desire to represent her country.

Wambach is a role model to many in the US and is a major reason why some of the young players coming through the American setup took an interest in the game in the first place.

She once again proved her worth for the national side in 2012, forging a formidable partnership with fellow nominee Alex Morgan, as they terrorised defences all year round.

The highlight of Wambach’s year would have to be winning her second Olympic gold medal, scoring in every group game, the quarterfinals and semi-finals, and finishing with a total of five goals. This was just one behind, yes you guessed it, Christine Sinclair.

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The American notched 26 goals in 2012 for the US, taking her to a total of 152 in 198 games since making her debut in 2001.

Ask most top defenders, and many of them will say that because of her frame, strength and unquestionable desire to win, Wambach is the hardest striker to play against in world football.

She will be seeking her first World Player of the Year award, having been shortlisted on a number of occasions, but never coming out on top.

This could be her year, and nobody could say she doesn’t deserve it.

Alex Morgan

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Alex Morgan is the golden girl of US Soccer, and may even be one of the most recognised players in America, along with LA Galaxy’s Landon Donovan.

She is the only women’s football player to have obtained over one million Twitter followers, and has had a year that few male players would be able to match.

Morgan first burst onto the scene last year after she was the number one overall pick in the now defunct Women’s Professional Soccer League draft by the New York Flash.

She soon became a household name in the league, and was rewarded by being selected to represent the US at last year’s World Cup in Germany.

However, it is 2012 that Morgan has established herself as one of the world’s best, turning defenders inside out with her quick feet and pace, and forcing goalkeepers to look behind them in despair as they see the ball nestled in the back of the net following a Morgan strike.

The 23-year-old from California is about as close to a football pinup as you could find, but don’t think that this girl is all hair and teeth.

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She became only the second player in US Soccer history to score 20 goals and obtain 20 assists in a single year, the other being legend Mia Hamm, and became the third player behind Wambach and Michelle Akers to notch over 25 goals, again, in a single year.

Morgan really is the real deal, and it is frightening how quickly she has adapted to the international stage.

She has already been voted the 2012 US Female Soccer Athlete of the Year, and my money is on her being stood next to Lionel Messi when the winners are announced in Zurich.

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Euro draw means England will have to do it the hard way

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How often have we watched the draw for a major tournament and puffed our cheeks out in relief after avoiding the dreaded group of death? I think its fair to say quite often.

Unfortunately, there was no check puffing when the draw for the European Championships in Sweden took place last Friday (November 9), which saw England paired with France, Russia and conquerors of Scotland, Spain.

Hope Powell’s side will travel to Sweden next year on the back of a qualification campaign that saw her side go undefeated and top their group following six wins and two draws.

However, Powell faces one of her biggest challenges in her 14 year career as England coach as she tries to better her team’s runner-up spot at the last championships in Finland, where England were beaten by a rampant Germany side 6-2 in the final.

There is no question that Powell has arguably the most talented pool of players to pick from thanks to the continuing development of the domestic Women’s Super League, and the fact that this is England’s fifth major tournament in a row, with many of the current squad having featured in at least one of those.

The danger for England is there are no easy games in their group.

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The French possess some of the most gifted players in the world at present, thanks largely to the fact that many of the players play their club football together with current Champions League holders, Lyon.

Camille Abily has just been shortlisted for World Player of the Year, while players such as Louisa Necib and Eugénie Le Sommer have had a good 2012.

Powell and her England side will know all about the Russians, having been drawn against them at the same stage three years ago in Finland.

England found themselves 2-0 down early on, but thanks to three unanswered goals, including one by Kelly Smith from the halfway line, they were able to turn the contest around with a 3-2 win.

The Spanish, who qualified with a dramatic last second goal against Scotland in a two-legged play-off, will also look to make an impact having never added to their solitary appearance at a major tournament, which was 1997’s European Championships – where they happened to be semi-finalists.

The last time the sides met was in June 2010 when two late goals for England earned them a draw in Spain during their qualification for the 2011 World Cup. Incidentally, England won the home game 1-0 two months earlier.

The pressure on England is to try and keep improving, so based on the last major tournament, that will be to get past the quarter-finals, having being knocked out by France on penalties in Germany last year.

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However, to better their last European Championships appearance, there is only one outcome possible – to win the competition.

How difficult will that be? Incredibly.

Hosts Sweden appointed former US Women’s National Team coach Pia Sundhage as their new manager recently, with the Swede boasting an impressive record during her time in America that saw her side reach the final of the World Cup and win gold at this year’s Olympics.

Holders Germany may feel they have a point to prove after being knocked out of the World Cup at the quarter-final stage last year, which resulted in them failing to qualify for this year’s Olympics.

Powell and England won’t be looking too far ahead, though, and will be focusing on the group ahead of them.

They do have an advantage being placed in Group C, with all of their first round games taking place in the city of Linköping, so they’ll be no travelling until later on in the competition, should they progress.

It would be a surprise if England failed to qualify from their group with the top two teams from all three groups going through, as well as the two best third placed sides.

It certainly wont be easy for England, and they’ll need to call on all their major tournament experience over the last few years.

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However, one thing is certain, if they want to win Euro 2013, they’re going to have to do it the hard way.

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Enforcer Asante key piece of Powell puzzle

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One of the most accomplished midfield performances I’ve seen in the three
years I’ve followed women’s football was Anita Asante’s display
against Japan at the World Cup last year.

Not only was she key to nullifying the Japanese attacking threat and
helping her team keep a clean sheet, but she was also instrumental in
protecting her back four to allow more attack minded players bomb
forward.

She was surprisingly replaced in the next game against New Zealand and
the quarter-final against France, but has since cemented her place in
the England team, playing a key role in Hope Powell’s side qualifying
for next year’s European Championships is Sweden.

Other than keeper Karen Bardsley, there is no one more knowledgeable on
the country England will travel to for the championships next year, as
the 26-year-old midfield enforcer plays her football for
Kopparbergs/Göteborg.

Last week she won the Swedish Cup with her club, defeating Marta’s
Tyresö FF in the final.

I was lucky enough to catch up with her just before she lifted her
first piece of silverware in Sweden to talk England, Sweden and .

1. First, congrats on the qualification for Sweden next year. How much of a relief was it to top your group?

I think we, as a team are, very happy to have qualified for the Euro’s in Sweden next year, but to have also topped our group leaves us with a greater sense of achievement also.

2. You’ve been praised for doing the work that possibly goes unnoticed, mopping up in front of the back four to allow the likes of Jill Scott and Fara Williams to get forward. Do you think this is a role becoming more and more important in women’s football?

I think the World Cup, European Championships and the Olympics most recently have reflected the significant growth and progression in the women’s game. There is a considerable amount of attention focussed on tactics as players and teams are increasingly better and more adept within the game, so I do think this is a role that is increasing in need and one perhaps more teams are starting to favour therefore, adding more importance to the role!

3. You played alongside Faye White in the last Euros as part of the back four. What would you say your most comfortable position is?

I have played at Centre back at previous major competitions but now I am back in midfield and thoroughly enjoying the experience. I have gained a wealth of experience and knowledge in both positions and feel equally efficient in both, however I believe I have a lot more to contribute from a midfield position.

4. How much will the team’s experience at the last few major tournaments play a part in preparations for Sweden next year?

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As individual players we learn so much from playing and observing games from prior competitions and I think the last major competitions will undoubtedly play some part in our preparations for Sweden next year. Our knowledge of players, the environment what we learn about each other is now so much more expansive and will hopefully prove to be very useful in our tournament ambitions.

5. Expectations will be high after reaching the final of the Euros last time round. How do you as an individual deal with that pressure?

After reaching the Euro finals in 2009 I try to deal with pressure by not focussing on outside expectations and focus more on personal goals.

6. You’re based in Sweden with Kopparbergs/Göteborg. What is the footballing culture like out there and how much are you enjoying it?

Kopparbergs/ Goteborg FC feels like a small close-knit family, ha! The football culture is really liberating, I have had such a positive experience here and feel like I have been playing some of my best football because of the culture, my team, the staff and the possession oriented football that is so well ingrained here at this club.

7. What sort of hosts will Sweden be next year? What do you think both players and spectators can expect?

Sweden will be excellent hosts, there is such a wealth of history and culture in women’s football here. I’m sure the Euro’s will be a great spectacle and one both the players and spectators will find very hard to forget!

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8. Pia Sundhage has confirmed she will take over the Swedes in December. How dangerous do you think that makes them, and what other nations do you believe will be challenging in the competition?

Everybody knows what a successful coach Pia was for the US. I think her accession as the national coach for Sweden will give them great energy and belief that they too can have a very successful tournament. I think along with many other teams, Sweden will be strong contenders for a finals place along with title holders Germany.

9. Finally, what have you noticed about the attitude of the British public towards women’s football since the Olympics?

The British public, I believe, exceeded all expectations and were phenomenally supportive of Team GB and our efforts this Olympics. I also believe that we have undoubtedly managed to capture the hearts of new British supporters and set a precedent for future teams as well as inspire a generation of young potential athletes. The support for and attitude towards women’s football continues to develop and grow in a positive direction.

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Look at the stars – WSL Team of 2012

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So another fiercely competed FA WSL has come to an end with Arsenal Ladies reclaiming the crown as Super League champions.

Those outside the women’s game looking in may question the league’s ability to be competitive, with yet another title for the Lady Gunners, and will possibly remark that it lacks compeition – but this was certainly not the case.

While Arsenal did finish the league campaign unbeaten, it was certainly no stroll, with tests throughout the season from the other seven sides.

But who were the standout performers? Who really shone through and who can claim that they performed to their full potential?

My team of the season is what it says on the tin – mine!

This is my view, which I am happy for people to debate over, but I in no way expect everyone to agree with me – this is what makes for interesting debate, isn’t it?

So without further ado, I bring you my FA WSL Team of the Season for 2012.

Image GK: Siobhan Chamberlain (Bristol Academy)

Bristol can boast the meanest defence in the league, along with Everton, and for me, a large part of that was down to Chamberlain.

Her shot stopping and decision making were quality, and there is no doubt she played a huge role in ensuring Bristol almost went the whole campaign unbeaten away from home, losing at Everton on the final day.

Unfortunate to miss out on the Olympics, Chamberlain is coming into her prime and I expect her to improve even more as the WSL adds further quality.

ImageDF: Alex Scott (Arsenal Ladies)

Scott and teammate Kelly Smith were undoubtedly the marque signings of the WSL before the season started, and neither disappointed.

Smith’s injuries meant Scott made more appearances, and was therefore able to influence more fixtures.

Her attacking play with Gemma Davison down the right was frightening for any left-back, but she was also equally comfortable when having to defend.

A regular for England, Scott is Miss Reliable, and has cemented her position for both club and country.

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DF: Gilly Flaherty (Arsenal Ladies)

Scott’s teammate, at just 21, is solid, quick and takes up good positions.

I’ve never hidden my admiration for the youngster and make no apologies for including her.

Playing alongside the likes of Ciara Grant and Faye White have clearly helped her, as she mopped up behind a midfield that contained the battling Katie Chapman, A class act, and will only get better.

ImageDF: Jemma Rose (Bristol Academy)

Solid, strong and like Chamberlain, a big reason for Bristol’s impressive defensive record.

Good in the air, not afraid of the tough challenges, Rose, like Flaherty, was impressive this season and can’t be far away from Hope Powell’s squad.

England has a bright future with so many young defenders coming through, and Rose is certainly up there with the best of them.

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MF: Toni Duggan (Everton Ladies)

Pace, trickery and an eye for goal are all factors behind Duggan receiving a call up to Hope Powell’s England squad.

Her stunning 25-yard effort on the opening day of the season at Arsenal set the tone for her season, and she only got better throughout.

ImageMF: Jordan Nobbs (Arsenal Ladies)

It sounds insulting to describe a player as ‘the most improved’ in the league, but I genuinely look at this as a positive statement.

It represents hard work, a willingness to learn and develop, while also showing an eagerness to cement a place in your tram’s starting line-up.

Nobbs ticks all the boxes and has been outstanding in scoring six league goals for her club and earning a call-up to Hope Powell’s squad. A worthy addition!

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MF: Gemma Davison (Arsenal Ladies)

I hate to be Arsenal heavy, but when you’ve gone the whole season unbeaten, you’re going to have quality players to help achieve such a record.

Davison took a little while to get into her stride, but it was away at Bristol Academy before the Olympics that she really showed what she is capable of.

Quick, direct, good feet and decent delivery meant she supplied a number of opportunities for her teammates. Is she good enough for England? There is no doubt, but competition in her position is fierce.

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MF: Jess Fishlock (Bristol Academy)

Player of the Season for me, and without doubt the most unfortunate player to miss out on this year’s Olympics.

Fishlock has everything – good feet, strength, tenacity and an engine that has to he running on Duracell.

Some will argue she’s too tough in the tackle, but take that desire out of her game, and you don’t receive the same influence. Chips in with goals and supports the back four, she is someone you want in your team.

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MF Lucy Staniforth (Lincoln Ladies)

Lincoln were a strong side from set-pieces this season, and a big reason for this was the delivery of Staniforth.

You don’t score eight goals at home against Arsenal unless you have a weapon to trouble them, and Staniforth was that weapon.

Lincoln played two styles of football this year, with a difficult pitch at home meaning they had to play more direct. Staniforth was as good as anyone at adapting to both.

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SS: Kim Little (Arsenal Ladies)

Ran Jess Fishlock close for Player of the Season for me – she’s just got everything.

Yet another superb season that has seen her top the WSL scoring charts, and whether you play her behind a striker or as a lone forward, she is always a threat.

She proved how highly thought of she is in this country by playing every game for Team GB at the Olympics, and at 22, she’s only going to get better – scary thought!

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CF Jodie Taylor (Birmingham City Ladies)

Going on loan to Lincoln last year seemed to do Taylor the world of good, as she proved to be Birmingham’s most lethal threat this time round.

Taylor has qualities that differ to many of the strikers in the WSL. She’s not particularly quick, but she’s strong, good in the air and has a knack for the odd spectacular strike.

Her performances this season took some of the pressure off of Rachel Williams, who was the club’s top scorer last year, and it can surely only be a matter of time before she is receiving an international cap.

Notable mentions

GK: Rachel Brown (Everton Ladies)

The most experienced keeper in the league. She’s been there, done it and worn the T-shirt, but still pulls performances out of the bag.

DF: Casey Stoney (Lincoln Ladies)

Strong, powerful and organised, Stoney is the leader at Lincoln and continues to carve out performances for an improving side. In the games I saw, she was a big influence on a team that showed glimpses of brilliance. Consistency will be the key next year.

MF: Jo Potter (Birmingham Ladies)

Tireless worker who seems to be everywhere, and has a left foot like a magic wand. She once again proved what an asset she is with her work rate and contributed a number of assists for the attacking pair of Taylor and Rachel Williams.

MF: Dunia Susi (Chelsea Ladies)

Her first season back after a stint at Birmingham, and she didn’t disappoint. Whether she was played in midfield or defence, Susi was arguably Chelsea’s most creative players, and even chipped in with a few goals.

FW: Helen Lander (Chelsea Ladies)

The most lethal striker in the first half of the season, helping to fire her team to the FA Cup final in the process.

Lander will admit her form wasn’t the same in the second half of the season, but she still finished with seven goals – which was only second to Kim Little’s 11.

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I’d like to take this opportunity to thank every single one of the WSL players from all eight clubs for providing a thoroughly entertaining league season. I’m sure I speak on behalf of all fans when I say we look forward to your return in 2013.

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Solid partnership could be key to England success

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Euro 2013 will be England’s fifth major championship in a row following their qualification for the competition last week.

Hope Powell’s side have shown gradual improvement since the first of those five appearances in 2005, with two quarterfinal World Cup spots, and an appearance in the final of Euro 2009 in Finland.

Now I must confess that I didn’t see any of Euro 2005 and only bits of World Cup 2007 due to the time of the kick-offs, but what I noticed about the last few tournaments was the importance of a stable and solid partnership at the back.

Injuries and suspensions have dogged England in the last few competitions, with Faye White fracturing her cheekbone in China and again in Finland, Casey Stoney getting sent off in Finland, and White again going into Germany 2011 with question marks over her match fitness.

In Stoney and current Lincoln teammate Sophie Bradley, England has a pairing that, if they can stay fit and avoid suspension, could bring that quality and stability needed to the side.

The pair have played just one tournament game together for England, which was in the highly impressive win over Japan at the World Cup last year. Following that win, Bradley made way for Captain White, who was always tipped to return for the game against New Zealand.

It should also be noted the pair played together for Team GB at the London Olympics, and before their elimination in the quarterfinals to Canada, they had played three, won three, conceded none.

History suggests, whether a team is male or female, that a stable, continuous centre back pairing gives a good chance of bringing success.

Gerard Piqué and Sergio Ramos started every game for Spain at the European Championships this year, while the US Women’s national team won gold at the London Olympics with Christie Rampone and Rachel Buhler at the heart of their defence for all of their six games.

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Going back, the last European Championships in Finland saw Babett Peter and Annike Krahn play every game together for the victorious Germany, while in last year’s World Cup, the Japanese back four started every game together on the way to their shock tournament victory.

In Stoney and Bradley, England has a rare opportunity to build a solid foundation within the back four, with both playing for the same club.

The duo has spent the last two years alongside each other since the formation of the FA Women’s Super League, and their partnership has certainly played a big part in Lincoln Ladies running the likes of Arsenal close in their encounters this year.

For me, a settled central defence is probably the most important area of the pitch – you can score goals and still lose, but if you keep clean sheets, losing isn’t possible.

Stoney and Bradley’s strengths compliment each other, with Stoney the stronger and more experienced, and Bradley the quicker, but no less talented.

Since Faye White’s international retirement, Stoney and Bradley have become Hope Powell’s first choice pairing, playing the majority of the Euro 2013 qualifiers together as England went the whole campaign undefeated.

The one downside is that the two defenders are at opposite ends of their careers.

Stoney turned 30 this year, and while I have no doubt she has a few years left in her, you have to question how many major tournaments the pair will play together.

There are a host of young defenders knocking on the door (Bonner, Whelan, Flaherty, Rose) but dislodging the Lady Imps duo will be a tough challenge.

Stoney has amassed over 100 caps, is England captain and is without doubt one of the most respected players in the England setup, while Bradley has cemented herself as one of England’s best young players in any position.

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Lincoln team mate Megan Harris told me months ago she felt she had the best centre back pairing playing behind her in the WSL, and while Lincoln’s position in the league might prompt you to question her, few clubs in the league have two full internationals paired at the back.

Sweden 2013 will be a real test for England with the likes of France and Germany joining hosts Sweden in the competition, but if Stoney and Bradley can continue their developing relationship, they could be the key to bringing future success to the lionesses.

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Does Hope sing Solo or is she just the outspoken member of the band?

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For those who witnessed the US Women’s National Team (USWNT for the sake of this blog) triumph at Wembley, you will have seen a group of players fighting for each other and overcoming a dogged, talented and entertaining Japan team in front of 80,000 people.

But just five days after the 18 squad members and four alternates were presented with their gold medals, keeper Hope Solo released a book that reveals all about her upbringing, her rise to fame, and a troubled period with the USWNT that saw her ostracised by other members of the squad.

Solo: A Memoir of Hope, is an autobiographical account of a young girl growing up in the Richland area of Washington, just outside Seattle, who dreams of becoming a professional ‘soccer’ player.

I will warn those that haven’t read the book yet that there could be a couple of spoilers, so stop reading now if you plan to read the book yourself.

Solo, an undoubted talent who has certainly played her part in raising the profile of the game, speaks openly about the troubled relationship she has with members of her family, the close bond she had with her father despite his various wrongdoings, and the trials and tribulations she has encountered as a member of the USWNT.

As a former journalist myself, I’d be interested to hear the side of players and staff that are named and shamed in the book, but Solo’s account highlights a small group of players that appeared to possess power that you would only expect the staff to have.

Its one thing to express an opinion, its another to influence a coach’s decision, force a player out of team meetings/meals, and even see them prevented from suiting up in their nation’s colours.

There is no doubt that Solo’s ‘outspoken’ views will have ruffled a few feathers, and she admits that she has an attitude adopted from her father, which sees her probably speak out when it would be more sensible to sit on her hands and keep quiet.

Her interview lamenting coach Greg Ryan for dropping her after the US’s 4-0 loss to Brazil at the 2007 World Cup was the start of a difficult period for Solo, which would see her put up in front of the entire squad and asked to explain her actions.

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In scenes that some could perceive to border on bullying, Solo faced an uphill struggle to win back the trust of a squad, who in my opinion, over reacted with behavior that you’d associate with children.

In my view, the Americans had just taken a hammering from Marta and her Brazil colleagues, and focusing their attention on Solo’s interview was a way of turning distracting the media, and themselves, from their tournament elimination.

On the flip side, Solo has a habit of making comments and portraying behavior that could be misconstrued as arrogant or dismissive of her teammates.

There is definitely an outspoken mentality that has seen her fined, suspended and kicked off of teams, but this is what seems to have made her so popular in the US, and even in other countries around the world.

Solo admits that she isn’t one for big crowds and much prefers to avoid the big parties, and this appears to carry over into the national team.

She regularly talks of sitting on the team bus with her headphones on, which would indicate little interaction with her teammates, while there were also clear tensions with some of the older players.

There was also an incident during the recent London Olympics that saw Solo criticise World Cup 99 winner Brandi Chastain on Twitter, who made comments about the defending of Rachel Buehler after one of the fixtures during the games.

While this showed loyalty to Buehler, some internet forums stated Solo had disrespected the ‘legacy’ that players such as Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Chastain had built following their World Cup win 13 years ago.

Despite this, its doubtful you’ll hear Solo apologise or retract her comments, and while the team of 13 years ago was an undoubted powerhouse with some household names, surely it is time to move on and embrace a team that recently became Olympic gold medalists?

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To me, answering my question in the title, Solo definitely has characteristics of the front man of a band. She enjoys being part of a team and sharing her success (a moment with coach Pia Sundhage in the book will support this), while she speaks up for her teammates, even if it does get her into trouble at times.

Some might perceive her to be a solo artist – arrogant, someone who isolates herself from big group situations, and an individual who will occasionally make comments that will anger others.

However, judge for yourself.

I would highly recommend having a read of Solo’s book, if I haven’t ruined it for you already, and definitely let me know your views, either below or on twitter (@kierstheivam).

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Life as a goalkeeper: Cherie Rowlands (Barnet Ladies FC)

The FA Women’s Super League is slowly growing by the week thanks to some positive publicity during the Olympic games and its clever utilisation of social media.

However, before the WSL was formed, the top tier of English football was the FA Women’s Premier League National Division.

Unlike the WSL, the league runs during the traditional English season from August to May, and kicked-off last week with a full set of fixtures.

One of those clubs, Barnet, didn’t get off to the best of starts, going down 3-0 at home to newly promoted Manchester City. I caught up with Barnet’s number one, Cherie Rowlands, during pre-season, and she told me about what its like to be a Premier League keeper and how she balances a full-time job with her footballing career, as well as a few other bits.

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KT: So, you’re Barnet’s number one, but you didn’t start out as a keeper did you?

CR: No, I used to play on pitch but I joined a new club and being a one of the new girls, I was kind of forced to go in goal. But I found I was quite good at it and I kepi my place.

KT: Clearly it was a good move. You’ve been at Barnet five years, would you say you’ve enjoyed your time there and are settled.

CR: Yeah I’m settled, but I think like every player you think about whether you’re doing the right thing. There have been times when you feel like jacking it in, but to be honest, the girls are a great bunch and we play for each other.

KT: Who do you model your game on?

CR: I always loved Pauline Cope (Millwall, Arsenal, Croydon and Charlton). She was someone I really worshipped and I actually got to play against her once, which was amazing.

KT: How important is the support you receive outside of the club?

CR: Yeah it’s really important. My dad loves the fact I play football and my friends think it’s amazing.  Some of them are amazed that I know players that play for clubs like Arsenal and take an interest in my career, and that’s a big help.

KT: Going off track slightly, women footballers, and women goalkeepers in particular, can quite often get some stick. Why do you think goalkeepers in the women’s game are under the spotlight?

CR: I don’t know really. Some men and women think its because we don’t like to get hit with the ball, but that’s simply not true. We don’t have the strength that the men do and you do feel like people are watching you when you take to the pitch, but I’ve learnt to deal with that as the years have gone on.

KT: Have you ever gone in at half time and not wanted to go out for the second half?

CR: Oh yeah definitely. There was a game against Colchester a few years ago and I let a goal in just before half time that looked like it was going wide. As I went to pick up the ball it came off my elbow and went in. I wanted to leave the pitch there and then and not come back, but we went onto win the game so the mistake wasn’t too damaging in the end.

KT: Now, unlike your male counterparts, you have the difficulty of trying to fit in your training, match days, travel and full-time job. How do you manage it?

CR: Luckily I can fit my shifts around training and match days, but it isn’t easy. I might sometimes go straight from work to training without having eaten anything, which isn’t ideal. When you do 40 hours a week it is tiring, especially adding training onto that. Some days I leave my house at 7.30am and don’t get home until 11.30pm.

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KT: Do you have time for any other interests due to your busy schedule?

CR: Not really. I used to play netball, but once the season starts, I don’t have a lot of time to do anything else. I’m not a drinker so going out on a Friday night isn’t really my thing. I’ll join the girls later on for a couple of hours and be the designated driver, but I’m not one for staying out all hours.

KT: Can you ever imagine having a male player’s lifestyle?

CR: I’d be on top of the world. I’d be able to do what I wanted and it would obviously mean I wouldn’t have to work, meaning I could train every day and improve my skills.

KT: So looking at Barnet, what goals have you set yourself this season?

CR: Everybody is on the same wavelength and we want to go out there and achieve as much as possible, including winning the league.

KT: How do you catch the likes of Sunderland and Leeds who were so far ahead of the pack last season?

CR: Personally, I think we need to add a few faces to the squad as we have a few weaknesses, but other players agree with me on what we need to do to be able to compete at the top. A few new signings would definitely improve our chances of catching those teams at the top.

KT: You’ve made almost 150 appearances for the club, which is quite high on the all time list. How proud does that make you?

CR: Very proud considering everything else that goes on in my life with work etc. I don’t see myself anywhere other than Barnet at the moment because the girls we have are a great bunch and we’re definitely improving.

KT: Do you have ambitions to play in the Super League?

CR: I think any player wants to play at the highest level and the Super League happens to be the highest level in our game at the moment. I had a training session with Emma Byrne (Arsenal) last year and she was impressed with aspects of my game, which was really pleasing for me. However, I’m a Barnet player and while I’m playing for them I want to give 100 per cent every game and not worry about things that I cant control. 

If you want to check out Cherie’s skills for yourself, Barnet play their home games at Underhill, also home of the men’s side. You can find out more about the club at http://www.barnetladies.co.uk

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Introduction: The Women’s Game

Hello and welcome to my new blog, dedicated to the world of women’s football.

You may already be aware of my work, but for any new readers, thank you for visiting my page and welcome.

The idea of this blog is to write semi-regular pieces on the women’s game, giving my opinions on news making the headlines, while also bringing you interviews with the players themselves, when I am lucky enough for them to agree to speak to me.

Any views or feedback are welcome and any suggestions on topics to cover are also something I would encourage.

I must stress that the views on this blog are very much my own, unless it is an interview feature with a player. I am simply a fan of the game and hope that this blog will inspire more people to give the women’s game a chance, or at least open their mind to the quality that many of the women’s players possess.

Thanks once again for visiting my page and I hope you find it entertaining and informative.

Regards

KieranImage

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