Gemma Bonner deserves better

Gemma Bonner, 140 Women’s Super League appearances. Two time League champion. FA Cup winner. Continental Cup winner. Snubbed from Phil Neville’s England squad.

In a career that has included some of the biggest clubs in the world, Gemma Bonner has continuously been ignored by the mainstream. People focus on her defensive partner and England captain Steph Houghton, leaving Bonner in the shadows.

This has never been more evident with the recent announcement of Phil Neville’s Lionesses squad for the current SheBelieves Cup. Neville left Bonner from the squad, instead favouring the likes of Abbie McManus and Grace Fisk.

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Bonner has represented England at every age level but only has 11 senior caps to her name. The real question is why? Why does Gemma Bonner keep getting overlooked by Neville and his team?

It’s a question that many keep having to try and answer. The central defenders included in the SheBelieves are: Grace Fisk, Millie Bright, Steph Houghton, Abbie McManus and Leah Williamson.

Granted, it would be hard to take any of these players out of the squad. However, all you have to do is take a small look into the kind of player Gemma Bonner is to understand why she deserves to be in the mix.

Scoring threat

Only Maren Mjelde (4) has scored more goals as a defender in the Women’s Super League this season than Bonner (3).

Bonner also bagged herself a brace in the Conti Cup group stage as City won 4-1 away to Everton in November.

This kind of scoring threat is only seen in her City partner and England skipper Steph Houghton — although it’s a different kind of threat. Houghton has scored more direct free-kicks (8) than anyone else in WSL history.

Bonner’s ability to find herself in the right positions from corners is unmatched by anyone in that England squad. That positioning works out on the other side of the things too.

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Her positional awareness is second-to-none and it needs to be appreciated more. Football IQ seems to be an underestimated quality in the women’s game and that’s something Bonner has in droves.

This is demonstrated in her ability to pass the ball. She has better passing accuracy (90.6%) than any of the defenders included in the SheBelieves Cup squad. McManus (80.2%), Fisk (79.9%), Houghton (83.3%) and Bright (79%).

The ability to find her teammates consistently is another thing that not many mention in a conversation about Gemma Bonner.

Leadership qualities

Bonner was not only part of the Liverpool side that won back-to-back league titles between 2013 and 2014, but she was also the captain of the team.

She led the side to two titles on the bounce. That’s a feat that has yet to be replicated by any team since. Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City sharing the most recent successes.

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Bonner’s leadership in another trait of hers that isn’t spoken about enough. The fact that she isn’t Man City captain seems to completely negate it from what people think of her as a player.

She is a fierce competitor and leads by example, shown only in the way that her peers respect her, her influence as a leader is quite clear to see on and off the pitch.

Partnership with Houghton

Bonner has forged a formidable partnership with her centre-half colleague Steph Houghton over the past two seasons.

City have conceded fewer goals (9) than any other team in the league so far this season, with three of those coming against Chelsea last Sunday in one of the games of the season.

Bonner and Houghton function fantastically as a duo in the heart of defence and could bring the defensive cohesion that Phil Neville’s England side need.

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Many have criticised Neville and even individual players when it comes to the England defence in recent times. Bringing in a recognisable defensive partnership could be the first step in actually being a defensive machine.

With Lucy Bronze and Rachel Daly either side of the defence, you’d think that the defence would be onto a winner. However, it has never seemed that way under Neville.

Lyon and PSG are two of the best teams in the world but quality runs far deeper in the WSL than in the D1.

We could see a partnership of Millie Bright and Steph Houghton during the SheBelieves Cup. The last time that happened was England’s 2-1 loss to Norway in September.

Since then, Neville has changed his defensive duo twice in four games. The thing the England team needs is consistency. The best defensive duos in world football are the ones that spend time together and mould each others games to one another.

That’s not going to happen if you cannot settle on a defensive partnership. Why not go with one that is already established as one of the best in the world?

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Even if it’s Leah Williamson or Abbie McManus, there will still be a level of uncertainty without the in-depth partnership.

In hindsight, it just seems like a massive oversight to not include one of the statistically best players in the league in your squad, especially when she would undoubtedly improve the reliability of your defence.

How does someone of Bonner’s stature only have 11 caps? She’s ended up becoming one of the most underrated players in the country. Completely by accident at that.

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