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Tokyo 2020

The Debate: Neville needs to harness Nobbs for Tokyo Games

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Jordan Nobbs

Image credit: Getty Images

ByBen Snowball
20/04/2020 at 18:04 | Updated 20/04/2020 at 19:25
@BenSnowball

Each week, four writers will argue a set topic from Monday to Thursday before having their views picked apart in a vodcast on Friday. This week it’s over to the women’s game and the battle for who will be Team GB’s leading light at the Tokyo Games.

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International tournaments are all about mindset. It’s no surprise that the same nations keep cropping up in the latter stages. For England, sadly, the prevailing attitude of both the men’s and women’s teams are plucky also-rans.

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Phil Neville needs that to change. The 43-year-old is clinging to the throne at the national side as he desperately bids to restore some form. Since the 2019 World Cup semi-final defeat to the United States, England have lost six of 10 games.

The coronavirus postponements may have brought him more time to work out a new plan away from the spotlight. If as expected the European Championships on home soil are postponed until 2022, his fate may rest on the Olympic Games.

As athletes, swimmers and cyclists come to terms with the postponement of Tokyo 2020, their woes playing out in a series of innovative training workouts in isolation, the impact on footballers with Olympic aspirations has been less publicised. But Team GB will be in Japan in 2021 – a chance to deliver on the promise of this generation.

Neville will be able to summon players from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in addition to his Lionesses in Tokyo. But he will also have a far more familiar player at his disposal again…

Jordan Nobbs of England gives her team mates instructions

Image credit: Getty Images

Jordan Nobbs knows all too well the pain of international disappointment. She ripped her hamstring just weeks before the 2015 World Cup, struggling through just one game in Canada, and suffered an ACL injury in November 2018 to rule her out of France 2019.

England fell at the final hurdle in both tournaments. Had they had their lung-busting, creative midfielder with an eye for the spectacular, it may have been a different story. In that defeat to the USA, England sadly looked inferior. So it was a pleasing sight to see Nobbs make an encouraging cameo against the same opposition at the SheBelieves Cup in March, even if the result was a defeat.

"It’s an exciting time for us, with an Olympics in Tokyo and a home Euros, especially with the way the game’s going with crowds growing," Nobbs told Metro prior to the postponement.

"I’ve got a good period to build back to my best for those and I want to make sure I’m back to my best and on that plane to Japan this summer. I believe in myself and want to be a part of everything that’s coming up. I need to perform first but I feel I’ve missed two major tournaments and I hope that time is still to come for me."

She’s now got an extra 12 months to prepare. And at 28, and with two World Cup disappointments already banked, Nobbs is the perfect candidate to help shift the mindset from ‘also-rans’ to ‘champions’. A three-time WSL winner with Arsenal and, crucially, someone who always want to get on the ball, she has to be a key part of the Team GB setup for Tokyo.

Sure, she’s yet to produce her creative best on the international stage. But then again, neither has Neville quite proved himself as England manager. If the two can work together, maybe, just maybe, it can be a golden trip next summer.

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