As if it wasn’t exciting enough that England are heading to the Euros on Wednesday with their sights set on winning the most coveted trophy on the continent on home soil, we all might witness the development of a generational talent under the brightest lights to boot.
England qualified automatically for Euro 2022 thanks to their host status, but make no mistake, this side is on the rise. In fact, we may have the best ever England team on our hands.
Having already made the semi-finals of the 2015 FIFA World Cup, the 2017 Euros, and the 2019 World Cup, there has always been the belief that this team is on the cusp of something special.
However, consistently falling short has to take a toll on team morale. That is why it was crucial for the Football Association to get the next managerial appointment spot on when Phil Neville, who had announced initially that he would leave when his contract expired in July 2021, left in January last year to manage Major League Soccer club Inter Miami.
And while it’s still a bit too early to give an overall assessment, early signs suggest that Sarina Wiegman, who previously led the Netherlands to their victory at their home Euro championship in 2017, was the right decision.
Wiegman has elevated this team by making them much more tactically flexible, a weakness that was present under earlier managers. The current team seems to be much better in each sector, whether it be decision-making in front of goal or positioning and defensive discipline.
There have been many players that have been key to the style that Wiegman wants to play. She’s been able to turn back the years and bring the best out of veterans like Jill Scott and Ellen White while also prioritising the development of new faces.
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One of those new faces is Lauren Hemp.
Hemp is only 21 years old, but generational may actually be an understatement if that’s even possible. Playing up top for Manchester City, Hemp has been voted the Professional Footballers’ Association Young Player of the Year in 2018, 2019, 2020, and most recently in 2022. Having joined Man City in 2018 from Bristol City, it suffices to say that Hemp was a star from the moment she stepped onto the pitch.
This past season, she finished as the club’s top scorer with 21 goals and 10 assists in all competitions. With 10 goals in the league, she finished fourth in the FAWSL’s top scorers of the season.
Her main threat comes as a result of her speed and ability to get her team up the pitch. Having that quality in transition will be invaluable during the Euros, especially in the latter stages, where England may face teams that like to keep possession.
Hemp has done this regularly for City, a perfect example being her goal against Leicester City in the WSL game in November 2021. After ripping the Leicester defence apart for 70 minutes, constantly running at defenders and setting up team-mate Caroline Weir for City’s first, Hemp got on the scoresheet herself.
The youngster held her width perfectly before making an incisive diagonal run, beating her worn-out marker for pace and lashing home her team’s third.
Despite being a young player, she also shows exceptional decisiveness and quick thinking.
For her goal in England’s most recent match against the Netherlands in preparation for the Euros, she had milliseconds to react after a failed clearance. What she produced was a shot with incredible technique. The ball dropped onto her left foot and she sent an exquisite, looping volley into the far corner.
But Hemp most shines when she has the ball at her feet. She is able to beat defenders in front of her with lightning speed, and she constantly uses her tight ball control to find spaces to exploit.
Her raw natural ability on the ball is so good that she’s already being likened to White in terms of importance to this England side, despite White being almost 12 years her senior and having 85 more appearances for the national team.
Hemp’s goal in the FA Cup final shows that she doesn’t shy away from big moments either. She equalised minutes after Chelsea’s first goal by getting past a defender, cutting inside and curling the ball beautifully into the far corner, this time with her supposedly weaker right foot.
HEMPO that was MAGIC ✨
— Vitality Women's FA Cup (@VitalityWFACup) May 15, 2022
All the plaudits are deserved and a credit to her talent. But of course, they come with an inescapable sense of pressure. It can’t be easy having fans, pundits, coaches and journalists constantly singing your praises publicly.
However, Hemp has found a way to deal with all the noise.
“I don’t really feel pressure,” she told The Telegraph. “But as I get older, I also realise there is going to be more and more of it on my shoulders. I just take it in my stride.
“I like the fact people have those expectations of me. If you have one good game for England, you’re expected to have another. That’s just the way it is when you play for your country and your club.
“I’ve set a benchmark for myself and I want that pressure this summer. I want to be the best, I want to be the player in this team that people look for to make something happen.
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“I want the expectation on me to come up with something, to be brave on the ball. In the position I’m playing in, you have to have that confidence to be creative.
“You can’t feel nervous, or under pressure, because you’ll be too timid to play well or to try things.
“If people expect things from me this summer, that’s good, it means I’ve played well before. I don’t shy away from the challenge in front of me, I want that in front of me. It’s not something I worry about.”
If Hemp is able to maintain that benchmark this summer, then we’re looking at the possibility of something truly extraordinary.
Not only a first international trophy for England, and on home soil at that. But also a breakthrough of a rising, homegrown luminary, who will be showing off her mastery on the biggest stage of all.
Most exciting of all, she should be around for years to come.