Leah Williamson: The England captain who led her country to Women's Euro 2022 victory

Leah Williamson
Credit: PA
Leah Williamson excelled as England won the Euros. Credit: PA

Leah Williamson has guided England to Euro 2022 glory, writing herself into the history books in the process.

After the Lionesses beat Germany 2-1, the 25-year-old joined a select club of footballers who have had the honour of leading England to a major international title.

For the past 56 years, the only member of that club has been Bobby Moore - the captain of the World Cup-winning team whose achievements have weighed heavily on generations of England teams.

But not on the Lionesses, whose victory of their home tournament has been characterised by a composure and confidence that at times has seemed to flow directly from their captain.

The tournament success is the pinnacle of Williamson's career so far, but it has long been expected that she would deliver great things.

Leah Williamson leading England out for the quarter-finals of Euro 2022 against Spain. Credit: PA

A future leader

Having grown up in Milton Keynes, she joined her local team Rushden and Diamonds at the age of six, before signing with Arsenal at the age of nine when her coach joined the club.

She has starred for England for every age-group side from the under-15s to the senior side, and has already captained her side at a home tournament, the under-17 Euros in 2013.

She was named England Young Player of the Year in 2014, and made headlines the following year thanks to an infamous penalty incident in an under-19 match against Norway which showcased her coolness under pressure.

Williamson, then 18, took and scored a penalty in the final seconds of the game, but the referee ruled that England players had illegally encroached into the box.

The referee then wrongly awarded a free kick to Norway, instead of a re-take for England, leading Uefa to order the final seconds of the match to be replayed five days later.

In the re-staged match, Williamson once again stepped up and slotted home the penalty - securing England's qualification for the European Championships.

Williamson has not looked back since, making her senior debut in 2018 and securing a regular starting place in the Arsenal team with whom she has won two Women's FA Cups, two WSL Cups and the Women's Super League in 2019.

Leah Williamson has excelled throughout Euro 2022. Credit: PA

Paolo Maldini comparisons

During the tournament, her performances drew comparisons with the great Paolo Maldini, the Italian defensive legend who once famously said that if he had to make a tackle "I have already made a mistake".

Her defensive work has won many plaudits, though her central defensive partner Millie Bright has arguably received more praise.

However manager Sarina Wiegman showed faith by making Williamson the only outfield player to play every minute of England’s run.

It is not only the defensive side of her game that has shone, however, with her 472 passes in six games the most of any player at the tournament.

The wider impact of Williamson and her team-mates has been significant, with many hailing the tournament as a breakthrough moment for the sport in terms of inspiring more women and girls into the sport.

Ex-England player Kelly Smith, once the country's leading goalscorer, said the team were inspiring the country.

“This generation, this group of players are really galvanising young women and girls to want to be like them," she said.

"They’re household names now. I see young girls with [Leah] Williamson on the shirt and Lucy Bronze, I just have to pinch myself sometimes.”

Leah Williamson has been a calm and composed leader for England. Credit: PA

England pride and heroism recognised

After Sunday's final, Williamson was full of pride for her country.

"It doesn't feel real," she told ITV News after the match. "If I was in the squad, if I didn't play a minute, to feel what we've all just felt together, 23-strong, honestly I couldn't be prouder to be English.

"I've got family for life now.

"What bonds us, those 23 players I don't think I'll ever get ever again."

The 25-year-old's heroics have already been recognised locally, with Milton Keynes making her the first person to receive the new city's Freedom of the City honour.

And as one of the top Lionesses, Williamson is set to benefit from prize money and sponsorship deals as a result of the tournament.

After a successful career so far, Williamson still has many years left to play football and captain England.

And the Euros victory may just be the beginning, as she will surely be looking at potentially leading her country to international success at the Women's World Cup in 2023.

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