Alessia Russo hopes England’s historic Euro 2022 triumph is the catalyst for more trophies for club and country, and bigger crowds watching the women’s game.
Manchester United forward Russo was one of England’s stars of the tournament, scoring four goals – including a stunning backheel against Sweden in the semi-finals – as the Lionesses won a major international tournament for the first time.
England’s memorable campaign culminated at Wembley on Sunday, where 87,192 fans – a record attendance for a men’s or women’s European Championship final – watched Sarina Wiegman’s side overcome Germany 2-1 in extra-time, and the whole experience has left Russo “hungry for more”.
Reflecting on Euro 2022, she exclusively told Sky Sports News: “It’s been amazing, my first major tournament. A lot of the girls were saying, ‘It’s not always like this!’
“The group we’ve had on this camp has been unbelievable. The talent has always been there in England, even the ones that don’t play anymore that have retired, they’re supporting us always and have paved the way for us to win those trophies.
“Everything about this team is special; the players, the staff, the support we were given really set us up for success.”
Russo continued: “My first major trophy, it makes me so hungry for more. I hope we see more fans in the stadiums at WSL games, that’s what we want, we want to fill out stadiums week-in, week-out.
“Having 90,000 people at the final was amazing and it’s crazy to play in front of that many people but, at the same time, we want to see them week-in, week-out in the WSL.
“Hopefully this tournament has sparked new fans coming into the game. We’ve got a packed season with all the top teams and a lot of the England squad is playing in the WSL so there’s lots of opportunities to see us much more regularly.”
Russo salutes Wiegman
The mastermind behind England’s historic victory was head coach Sarina Wiegman who, having guided the Netherlands to the Euro 2017 crown without losing a game, repeated the feat with England.
“She’s amazing,” Russo added. “Her record speaks for itself. To go through two major tournaments back-to-back without losing a game in the Euros is unbelievable.
“She’s a winner, she knows how to win. She wants to win every day and she makes training so competitive which helps us when it comes to the game day. Off the pitch, she is so chilled. She’s relaxed, she makes everyone around camp feel welcome and relaxed.
“In a major tournament like this, we didn’t know what to expect coming out of it, we have really been in our bubble for the past month or so, not much of the media coming in and Sarina keeping it level-headed throughout.
“Coming out has been a little bit crazy but credit to her for keeping it that way throughout camp because we were so focussed on winning.”
Russo’s stellar tournament has given her the taste for more but before new objectives can be identified for club and country, a well-earned period of rest is in order.
“A bit of a break for sure, I’m going to go on holiday in the next few days,” she replied when asked what her next steps were.
“We have two weeks off until we’re back in with United. There’s a pre-season tour and then straight back to the season. It’s been an amazing summer but very much due a rest right now.”
The stakes were high when Sarina Wiegman took on the England job in September 2021.
Never before had the FA appointed a women’s manager with established international pedigree, let alone one with major tournament-winning credentials.
The risk was shared by all parties. The expectation was immediately heightened, and with only 10 short months to embed an entirely new philosophy ahead of a European Championship in the spotlight of home crowds, the decision had to be the correct one.
Wiegman herself had to weigh up leaving her Dutch homeland and a squad she had guided to continental success in 2017, in favour of managing abroad for the very first time and implementing her European strategy on a side that had only ever previously been overseen by English coaches – bar a brief interim period in 2021.
The appointment made her the first non-British permanent Lionesses manager, at a time where investment in the domestic game had outgrown the notion that England Women can compete at international tournaments, but were never really discussed as legitimate candidates for silverware.
That backdrop has changed significantly and yet Wiegman has remained completely unmoved by the demands of an expectant nation, starved of senior international footballing glory for 56 long years…until now.
Key dates for the 2022/23 WSL season
- Barclays Women’s Championship opening weekend: August 20/21, 2022
- Barclays Women’s Super League opening weekend: September 10/11, 2022
- FA Women’s Continental League Cup final: March 4/5, 2023
- Barclays Women’s Championship final weekend: April 29/30, 2023
- Vitality Women’s FA Cup final: May 14, 2023
- Barclays Women’s Super League final weekend: May 27/28, 2023