Phil Neville has ‘missed a trick’ in leaving Fara Williams out of his England squad for the sell-out clash with Germany at Wembley, according to Reading teammate Natasha Harding, writes Tom Dean.
Williams is the Lionesses all-time top appearance maker, with 172 caps to her name, but has been kept on the fringes of the squad ever since Neville took over almost two years ago.
Now 35, the effervescent midfielder has been in fine form for Reading of late and scored a hat-trick at the Madejski in their 3-2 win over Lewes in the Continental League Cup less than a fortnight ago.
And Harding, who was appointed captain of the Royals at the beginning of the season, believes Neville could her teammate Williams’ experience in his current squad, who face Germany at Wembley on November 9 before a trip to the Czech Republic three days later.
“I don’t know what else she has to do to get picked and I think he [Neville] could do with her experience to be honest with you,” said the 30-year-old.
“At the moment you’ve got Jill [Scott], Steph [Houghton] and Lucy [Bronze] with experience and for me that is not enough - they [England] are lacking.
“As a coach you need to be able to identify experience and use it to your advantage and I think he has missed a trick there.
“She has got 172 caps for England which is incredible in itself but she is also a good person and I have always got on with her so well.
“She is unbelievable and I don’t think people quite appreciate what she is capable of with the ball at her feet.”
🎙 Let the countdown to Wembley...BEGIN!— Lionesses (@Lionesses) October 29, 2019
Your squad, ladies & gents.... pic.twitter.com/pY1DZk8BJT
Neville’s squad sees Chelsea forward Fran Kirby miss out as her fitness continues to be monitored while Toni Duggan returns to the group, which includes 17 players who represented England at this summer's World Cup in France.
Despite being top scorer in the Women's Super League, Everton’s Chloe Kelly has also been snubbed in favour of Manchester City teenager Lauren Hemp who earns her first full call-up having been drafted into squad and making her debut against Portugal in the Lionesses’ last friendly earlier this month.
Hemp’s Manchester City teammates Georgia Stanway and Ellen White have been included as part of the three training players to travel with the squad despite only playing a handful of minutes in recent weeks due to injuries.
But much to Harding’s dismay there is still no room for a fully-fit Williams, who is so talented she takes the Reading set-pieces with both feet.
The Royals have got off to a stuttering start to the season suffering league defeats to both Manchester clubs along the way but there is no doubt in Harding’s mind that Williams has continued to be a shining light, even as she approaches her twilight years.
“I’ve been asking her lately if she has got a bad back because she has been carrying this team lately,” said the Wales international.
“She takes free-kicks and corners with her weaker left foot – I can’t think of any other player doing that.
“She doesn’t even practice that very often – she’s not out on the training field half an hour after everyone else – she is just naturally gifted.
“She is a fountain on knowledge and knows when one of her teammates is having a bad day and always tried to help them out – me and her are chatting all the time.
“When does eventually retire she will be held in high regard but I don’t think that will be any time soon.”