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Kelly Smith: Ellen White could signal paradigm shift for women’s football

White is just one goal away from tying Wayne Rooney’s record (John Walton / PA Images)
White is just one goal away from tying Wayne Rooney’s record (John Walton / PA Images)

A record-breaking Euros from Ellen White would ignite a paradigm shift in the perception of women’s football, says former England star Kelly Smith.

White can match Wayne Rooney’s 53-goal England record as early as Wednesday if she nets in the their quarter-final clash with Spain.

The Manchester City striker surpassed Smith’s 46-goal tally in November to become the Lionesses’ all-time top scorer and edged ever closer to Rooney’s total with a brace in England’s 8-0 group stage rout of Norway.

While White herself prefers to redirect attention to her Group A-topping squad’s collective efforts, Smith, who won 117 caps for England, was more than willing to wax lyrical about the self-effacing Lionesses lynchpin.

She said: “When Ellen beat my record I called her up the next day to congratulate her because I know how hard she works. I played with her, I know her as a person, she’s very humble and down-to-earth.

“She’s really worked and evolved our game over the last few years and she fully deserves the accolades. If she can reach Wayne Rooney’s record that is just phenomenal, because Wayne Rooney has been one of the best players to play in an England shirt.

“If she can surpass that and put her name above him it just speaks volumes for where the women’s game is at this moment in time and has come over the years.

“To have a female footballer above Wayne Rooney will draw a lot of eyes to it because of the levels he reached for England, his class, his technique and his goal-scoring ability.”

Retired England international Kelly Smith
Retired England international Smith believes this is the strongest Lionesses side yet (Mike Egerton/PA)

Two more goals for White would see her top either national team in 11-a-side football, though Smith’s fellow National Football Museum Hall of Fame inductee David Clarke netted 128 for England’s five-a-side blind football squad.

Smith, who represented England the last time the country hosted in 2005, was speaking on behalf of official sponsor of UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 Hisense as part of its ‘Remember the Name’ campaign. White is just one of the women Smith is convinced will leave a lasting legacy from Sarina Wiegman’s squad, which also boasts Golden Boot contender Beth Mead.

The Arsenal attacker has used her omission from Team GB’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic side as fuel to fire her tournament-leading five goals and three assists across three matches.

“She looks like she’s in the best headspace ever,” said Smith. “When Beth Mead is happy and playing angry she’s at her best.

“She’s surely delivered in every sense of the word playing in that England shirt this tournament.

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

Wednesday’s contest in Brighton will see England take on Group B runners-up Spain, a line-up boasting a substantial cohort from Barcelona’s 2021 Champions League-winning season.

Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas was ruled out with an anterior cruciate ligament injury just days before the tournament began, an absence that could help England in what Smith believes will be a substantially tougher fight for possession than they have experienced so far.

If “it’s coming home” was a whisper as the group stages unfolded, it has now reached at least a loud murmur after the world number eight-ranked Lionesses saw off 11th-placed Norway in a match Smith described as “the best performance I’ve ever seen an England international women’s team perform on a big stage”.

Expectation in camp, she suspects, is nothing short of reaching the July 31st Wembley final—one Smith’s best guess will feature the hosts versus Germany.

She added: “Hand on heart I want to say England [to win]. It’s the best group of players I’ve ever seen in terms of technique, game understanding, technical ability, fitness and fight mentality.

“This team looks so hungry for it. Teams in the past have [too], but they haven’t had all those things. They’ve got everything right now.”

Teaming up with Women in Sport, a charity committed to transforming sport for the benefit of every woman and girl in the UK, Hisense is currently offering customers the chance to claim up to £150 in cashback with the option to donate a percentage of their reward to the charity. All donations made will be matched pound for pound by Hisense: https://hisense.co.uk/womens-euros-2022/