Tuesday, October 4, 2022

‘I’m expecting a rollercoaster of emotions’ Leah Williamson speaks to Arseblog News ahead of new WSL season

This summer, Leah Williamson crossed over. She went from one of the most famous women’s footballers in the country to one of the most famous athletes overnight. After captaining England to their first major tournament win this summer on home soil, Williamson became a household name. Her Twitter following has nearly trebled since the Lionesses triumph at Wembley Stadium on 31st July.

When Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker won the World Cup with Germany in 2014, he candidly admitted that he found it difficult to readjust to the weekly grind of club football and that it impacted his form. “In the first months, in particular, it was quite difficult to come down and to forget that feeling of being a World Cup champion,” Mertesacker told Nick Ames of the Guardian at the end of the 2014-15 season.

“I didn’t play at my best and that was because I hadn’t experienced this feeling before. Sometimes I didn’t know how to handle the situation.” In a roundtable media session, I repeat Per’s quotes to Leah and ask whether she has prepared herself to step off the summer pedestal and back onto the WSL treadmill with Arsenal.

“I did have a conversation with Jonas Eidevall about it and where I was at with returning,” she tells me. “As much as coming out of a tournament early and underachieving, going from the highest of highs and going back into normal life regardless of football, is still hard. I was expecting that. I had plans in place to deal with my own emotions around it. But Jonas is aware of me as a person and we keep those lines of communication open.

“I’m very lucky that I play for a club that I love so it doesn’t feel like a day of work. I’m expecting a little bit of rollercoaster emotions at some points.” She then invites me to ask her the question again a few months into the season, which, rest assured, I duly will. Williamson admits that she needed to step away from her mushrooming social media following in the wake of England’s victory in order to keep herself grounded.

“I thought about chucking my phone in the river!” she jokes. “The attention we are all getting has obviously gone up a fair bit. People who never really knew we existed are now recognising our faces. That’s changed. I’ve stayed away from it as much as possible because I wanted to manage my own emotions and re-focus on the job in hand.

“The craziness is just the attention and how many people know our faces. It’s hard sometimes but it’s a good thing for the game and it’s what we’ve always wanted.” Leah also insists that she won’t totally compartmentalise what happened to her and her England teammates this summer. “I’m dreading the day I don’t think about it at least once. I’m a big softy. I like fairytale endings and it was very fitting for that tournament on home soil at Wembley.”

The Gunners kick off their WSL season on Sunday away at Manchester City and Leah’s mind is ready to switch back to the business of regaining the league title, which Arsenal missed out on by just a point behind Chelsea last season. It has been quiet in terms of incomings but the club have tied down key players like Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley, Noelle Maritz, Jen Beattie and star player Vivianne Miedema to new deals.

“This is one of the first seasons at Arsenal where we’ve really had that in terms of fewer changes and more consistency. I’m intrigued to see how we deal with that. Last year was Jonas’ first year so it was the unexpected. Now there’s a settled nature to the team which could definitely be an advantage but on the flip side Manchester City have brought in a lot of players so it will be interesting to see how we fare up on the opening weekend.”

The title race went down to the wire last season, at half-time for the final fixture of the season, Arsenal topped the table until Sam Kerr intervened a few miles down the road and secured the trophy for Chelsea. The defender suggests that pain will be a motivating factor as they look ahead to this season.

“It hurt me a lot and I think it tired me. Going to the Euros, the closer you get to the final the more you realise if it’s not successful you have to do that all again to even have a shot at winning. To be successful has given me a bit of fire back in my belly before the season and now I’m looking forward to starting a new journey.”

However, she is quick to insist that there is a distinction between an international tournament and winning honours at club level. “I think over the summer naturally it’s different. You’re away together for x amount of weeks and you can fully commit to it. The maturity that it teaches you in terms of how to handle yourself and how to give as much of yourself as possible, I’m looking forward to having that longevity at Arsenal over the season now.

“Naturally we have our goals. We want to be winning things. Being so close to the league last season, obviously we are chasing that and the Champions League is the big one. It’s a different game. We have always known that the WSL is a short season and there’s a small number of teams. One or two results can really sway it.

“You don’t want to drop points when you shouldn’t in terms of expectations because it could affect the final results. The biggest learning for us is that we were in quite a few pressurised situations last year – a failed cup final. Those defeats probably taught us the most about ourselves. We had big reflection moments and thought ‘what do we need to do going forward.”

The 25-year-old captained her country to triumph at the Euros but, back at Arsenal, veteran midfielder Kim Little wears the armband. For Williamson though, there is no readjustment required to not wearing the cloth on her arm at club level. “I’ve always admired Kim but definitely throughout the summer I’ve seen her in a different light again.

“Who Kim has been for me over the last year or so, if you show her you have the motivation to get better, then she will do anything she can to help you. She’s been one of the most important person in my footballing journey over the last couple of years. But being vice-captain and being here means I still have a job to do and I plan to be as present as possible. I hope she doesn’t think I’m slacking off now!”

All that said, Williamson still thinks that her summer fairytale with England was an experience she can use to Arsenal’s advantage, “If you’ve never walked out to that stage, how do you know if you are ready? You work every day to prepare yourself. I’ve worked every day since I was six years old but you don’t know how you’ll fare until you get there.

“I think more than learning about myself, it was a confidence boost that I could still go out and play my game. Being successful too – nothing does more for you than winning. I was happy with how I handled the pressure.” This season, the pressure ratchets up on Arsenal straight away with a trip to Manchester City, where they haven’t won since 2017. When kickoff rolls around on Sunday evening, be sure of one thing, Leah Williamson will be ready to face down another challenge.

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C.B.

Top top player in a great team. Hope we can win the league this year!!!

MartynJ

Her performances in the last couple of England games didn’t show any trace of a post-Euros comedown. Looking forward to seeing her back in the RCB position. Also very much looking forward to this being the season when commentators and pundits start to grasp the full range of what she actually does on the pitch, rather than just talking about ‘composure’, being ‘important to the team’, and ‘pinpoint diagonals’. I suspect she also holds the record for most key passes edited out of replays.

Gunner H

Very well summarised – she is an absolutely first class player and a vital member of the team.

Fun Gunner

Good luck to the whole squad for the coming season.

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