Sarah Mayling made her debut for the England U15s whilst she was still 13-years-old. She’s since gone on to play 24 youth international games, scoring four goals.
However, like many others that have played regularly for the various England youth teams, Mayling has yet to be selected for the senior Lionesses.
Could this be all set to change?
Dreams do come true
Two years ago, Mayling’s mum enthusiastically recalled her vivid dream of her daughter playing for her country once she turned 24. Mayling has just celebrated her 24th birthday, so we shall wait and see what lies ahead.
After starting footballing life playing for a boys’ team, Mayling went on to play for Aston Villa at the tender age of eight. She knocked the goals in week in, week out and soon progressed through the ranks to play for Aston Villa Ladies in 2014.
As Mayling admits herself: “Ever since I was young I just wanted to play football.” In her 11 years at Villa, she mainly played in midfield or on the wings as part of a front three.
Early England career
Mayling has played for every age group from the England U15s to the U23s. When you look at Mayling’s international career, there’s one fact that stands out.
A staggering 21 out of her 24 appearances all came whilst she was playing at Aston Villa. From 2011 to 2016 her England youth career was going from strength to strength.
You cannot deny that at that time, at U17 and U19 levels, she was recognised as one of the best midfielders in the country. Furthermore, Aston Villa weren’t even a top tier team back then.
Later, she was one of eight Birmingham City players called up to the Nordic tournament in 2017 but England U23 head coach Marieanne Spacey didn’t feature her. In 2018, Mayling was called up again to the U23 Nordic tournament and this time interim head coach Melanie Reay played her in all three games.
International career takes a pause
Mayling has not been selected for England since 2018 and she is yet to make her senior debut. There are three reasons as to why this could be.
Like many footballers, Mayling has had more than her fair share of injuries, including an ACL injury back in 2015. She suffered another injury setback at the start of the 2017/18 season. This resulted in her playing only one full match and making two brief substitute appearances in the run up to Christmas.
In November 2019, injury struck again – this time a ligament strain which kept her out of action for several weeks. This was so cruel on her given how well she was playing at that time. History repeated itself in November 2020. West Ham United’s Laura Vetterlein accidentally caught Mayling’s knee in a rather heavy tackle.
Competition for places
Mayling joined Birmingham from local rivals Aston Villa in 2017. So far she’s made 79 appearances and for the last two seasons has been recognised as one of the Blues’ most creative players.
However, after a successful start to her Birmingham career, life didn’t go so rosy for Mayling. In 2017 she played in 11 out of the 12 Spring Series and FA Cup games. However, in the following two seasons, she only started 20 of the 52 games in all competitions.
Of course, recovering from an injury didn’t help but she was also facing more and more competition. In the summer of 2017, Birmingham manager Marc Skinner made five more signings.
In 2018, he added even more quality with the signings of Lucy Staniforth, Chloe Arthur and Harriet Scott. Over those two seasons Mayling came on 17 times as a substitute but didn’t play at all in 15 matches.
By contrast, moving forward to last season and this, Mayling is now playing 90 minutes almost every single game. She is currently the leading assists provider for her club. Five of Birmingham’s 13 WSL goals so far have been set up by Mayling.
Therefore, she would make a superb back-up for Beth Mead in the Lionesses squad.
Versatility is an asset and hindrance
The most frustrating thing for Mayling back then was when she was given a chance, she did have some truly excellent games. She really made a significant contribution to the team but she was being moved around from one position to another.
This was especially true when coming on as a substitute. Depending on who was coming off would have a bearing on where she would play.
Skinner then opted to start her more and more as a full-back. Given Mayling had spent most of her career playing either in midfield or as a forward, this position was new to her.
Marta Tejedor takes the reigns
One may have been forgiven for thinking that when new manager Marta Tejedor joined, Mayling might be given more chances.
However at first, Tejedor seemed to take a policy of not changing too much from what Skinner had created. This meant not always playing Mayling, but when she did, she played her at full-back and only on occasion further forward.
Mayling would be right to feel she was hard done by when, after being recognised as one of the very few outstanding players in Blues’ 2-1 defeat away to Brighton in February 2019 she was not selected to start in any of the following three games. What more was she to do?
Sarah took out her frustrations by telephoning her dad and asking for his advice. Whatever wisdom he shared with her must have made an immediate impact.
Mayling was instantly back in the starting lineup for the next game against Liverpool. In front of a decent crowd at St Andrew’s, Mayling had an outstanding game and was awarded joint Player of the Match.
Who you player for matters
You’d like to think it doesn’t matter who you play for. However, history shows you are more likely to be selected if you play for an elite-level club.
The latest England squad announcement didn’t include anyone from the bottom seven WSL sides. This in in stark contrast to the England youth teams.
Miss Versatility is Fans Favourite
Sarah has earned the title “Miss Versatility” from her adoring fans. Alongside RTC graduate Connie Scofield she is one of the longest serving players in the current Birmingham City squad. Over her time at Blues, Sarah has become a firm fans’ favourite, and this is despite her background with local rivals Aston Villa.
Sarah has always appreciated the support she receives from fans and she makes a point of always talking to the fans and giving back as much as possible. This has included visiting schools, sister clubs, networking events and even socialising with fans in coffee shops and other more enticing hospitality venues. Building a great rapport with the fans really does make such a difference.
Carla Ward loves her versatility
When current Blues Head Coach Carla Ward is questioned as to where she sees Mayling’s best position being she gives the cliche answer. “Wherever’s best for the team.”
Ward is quoted as saying: “I think I could play Sarah Mayling anywhere in the eleven and she would do a job. She is a very, very, very intelligent footballer. She gives you so much, she’s so focused.”
She’s also added: “She’s been absolutely, outrageously good out there. She offers so much defensively; she offers so much getting forward; she’s got so much energy. Honestly, she’s hugely underrated because I think she’s been superb.”
Ward has played Mayling at full back, centre midfield, right midfield and up front on the wing. There’s no doubting her versatility but when she plays further forward she creates so much more for the team.
The most recent example of this is in the latter stages of the recent game away to West Ham United. Mayling, on the right of the box, whips in a first time peach of a cross straight into the path of her teammate Ruby Mace who duly scores. Honestly, if this had been Trent Alexander-Arnold we would be talking about Gareth Southgate’s England winning the Euros or World Cup.
Backup for Lucy Bronze or Beth Mead
In order to be selected for the England senior squad, you need to be recognised as one of the best there is in your preferred position.
The dilema for Mayling is do you play her at full back or further forward?
To quote women’s football reporter Sylvain Jamet: “The England staff should really have a look at Sarah Mayling as a back up for Lucy Bronze in the near future.
“The only question mark for me is can she repeat the runs up and down at an even higher intensity, which is needed at international level. GPS data has the answer. I would her play in both positions personally.”
Everyone will have their opinions but mine is simple. Sarah has a track record of being more creative as a winger. She can play to her strengths more further forward. Therefore she would make an even better back up for Beth Mead.
Make the position her own
Being known as Miss Versatility may have its advantages. But for Sarah to be considered seriously for the Lionesses she needs to settle in one position. Then make that her own.
Carla Ward’s future team selections will be hugely significant. Not just for Birmingham but for Sarah’s chances of an England call up.
I’m sure Sarah Mayling will make her England debut sooner than later but I wonder what number she’ll be wearing?