Alessia Russo. Ella Toone. Chloe Kelly. England’s super subs shaped their historic Euros triumph.
From Toone’s stunning lob and Kelly’s title-clinching finish in the final against Germany to Russo’s now-iconic backheel through the legs of the Swedish goalkeeper, the trio have carved out unforgettable moments in English football history.
Make no mistake, the record-breaking starting XI were selected six games in a row for a reason. They’re packed with talent and know-how, including inspirational captain Leah Williamson and top scorer and player of the tournament Beth Mead. But this was a crown clinched in a very modern style.
Boss Sarina Wiegman – who has now done the double after winning Euro 2017 with home country the Netherlands – is renowned for how she creates unity in a squad and she harnessed England’s strength in depth superbly throughout the tournament to take them to unprecedented heights.
Substitutes? The preferred term of England men’s rugby union head coach Eddie Jones – ‘finishers’ – feels more appropriate and more respectful for the crucial impact these players make from the bench. It’s no wonder Wiegman has also adopted the phrase.
Previously, a place in the dugout was seen as something of a slight, a public display you weren’t quite good enough to be out there. But now there’s an appreciation of the vital contribution these players can make late on, when starters’ legs are weary and spaces are opening up.
Russo, in particular, has stood out for her ability to exploit those moments, scoring four times after coming on.
Earlier in the tournament, Toone benefited from extra-time and space afforded to these late arrivals in midfield, allowing her to create chances and thread passes through defenses. In the final she was able to spot a gap to run through for her goal which would not have been there earlier in the game.
It’s not formulaic. The spate of subs quickly sent on against Spain after England conceded early in the second half was not part of the plan but instead owed much to Wiegman’s instinctive reading of the game – and how she could turn it back her team’s way.
And so it’s that combination of talent in reserve and a manager who knows how to use it which has made this England squad so effective at these Euros.
Player for player were they the best in the competition? Well, as it happens, there will be people who will argue for that to be the case. But when it comes to squad for squad – and how the squads were deployed – there’s no question Wiegman’s 23 were the best bunch.
There will be much written and said about the legacy of this England team. How they have and will inspire girls and boys across the country and the big impact their victory could potentially have on the way women’s football and women’s sport on these shores is regarded.
But if the focus is on the legacy of their football, there is a strong case to be made that this group under Wiegman have presented a template of how to use a squad of players in a dawning era of five substitutes.
The rule change was a protective measure during the pandemic but has now become a permanent fixture in many leagues and will surely shift the approach teams take to the 90 minutes.
Premier League and EFL managers in the men’s game – able to use five subs themselves this season – would do well to take note of the way Wiegman deployed her options during this campaign. They surely will.
England’s super subs were game changers in more ways than one.