WSL golden boot winner Rachel Daly believes that the women’s football calendar still needs consideration as players return to England camp less than a month after the World Cup and before the new club season has even started.
The Lionesses kick off their UEFA Nations League campaign on Friday against Scotland, followed by the Netherlands four days later. The WSL then starts only five days after that on 1 October.
It sees the players, having not long reported to their respective clubs for pre-season, link up for England training this week, before then going straight into club action.
“It’s a weird one really,” Daly said, speaking ahead of England’s upcoming fixtures. “It’s weird being back with the girls again because we were just with them – feels like we weren’t with them, feels like we were with them, but I think we all got pretty much adequate time off post the World Cup.
“But it’s our job. We’ve got to get straight back into it, back in with our clubs, back in internationally.”
England boss Sarina Wiegman has called for changes to the calendar after concerns that her players were not rested enough, saying she was worried about the tight turn around.
The Nations League is new to the women’s football calendar, and with an already compact season filled with two domestic cup competitions, the league and Champions League on top of back-to-back summer tournaments in 2022 and 2023 – a Great Britain team could also be at the Olympics in 2024 – considerations in how the calendar is spread out is something that is needed, says Daly.
“I do think the calendar is something that does need to be addressed moving forward,” the Aston Villa striker explained.
“You’ve seen a significant amount of injuries in the past year or so, which you can only think may be a part of the calendar and the excessive amount of games that we do have during the season, especially the girls playing in Champions League as well,” she said, referring to the rising number of long-term and ACL injuries that England have suffered recently.
England skipper Leah Williamson missed the World Cup, along with Euro 2022 player of the tournament Beth Mead, both suffering ACL injuries. Fran Kirby also missed out due to a different knee injury. Stand-in skipper Millie Bright was out of action for four months ahead of the World Cup because of an injury in March, but made it back in time to wear the armband for the Lionesses.
Despite the rising injury concerns, the game time that is so crucial to player development is something that Daly believes needs to be maintained.
“I do think [the calendar] needs to be looked at and addressed in the future. But as of right now, we’re not in a position to minimise any games and game time that we’ve got so we just have to tackle it head-on right now and put ourselves in the best position physically and mentally to play.”
Daly, who signed for Aston Villa ahead of the 2022/23 campaign, praised Carla Ward’s ability to manage her game time and minutes, saying that the manager, who saw her side finish fifth last season, has been “fantastic” at managing the loads of both her and fellow Villan, Jordan Nobbs.
“It’s difficult to switch your head from one to another,” Daly continued, speaking on the difficulty in going from a major tournament to pre-season with the club and then back into England camp again before the league has had a chance to start. “But again, it’s our job. We’re professionals. And that’s what we’re here to do,” she concluded.
“I think it’s just maybe how do we spread [international fixtures] out?” she added. “Two here, two next month, two the month after, it’s intense and they’re not just friendlies. I think the magnitude of the games is quite excessive. I think it does need to be addressed.”
After the 2020 Olympics was postponed to 2021, Daly has been a part of three international summer tournaments in three years, playing in the Olympics, Euro 2022 and the recent 2023 World Cup. With the Nations League serving as the qualification process for the 2024 Olympics, if England were to reach the semi-finals and win, Daly would see herself in her fourth major tournament in four years.
“I think it’s intense, but that’s international football,” she said, after being told it would be four back-to-back major tournaments, something the striker had not realised.
“But that’s what we want to be a part of; like I said, it is a magnitude of games, but you know, aside from international football, club football, it’s hard to keep our bodies healthy.”
Whilst discussing the congested calendar, Daly also shared her support for the Spanish national team players, who were forced to return to international duty and initially faced potential legal action if they refused. Eventually, RFEF backtracked the legal obligation and promised overdue changes, leading to 21 of the 23 players remaining in camp.
“We, as players, and everyone in the female game stands with them,” Daly said. “It just shows how far we’ve got to go in women’s football, in the world. It’s a really, really sad time to watch players, colleagues go through things like that. It’s awful. But again, it’s what we continue to keep pushing for and fighting for each day.”