Houghton hoping Sampson stays

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Published: Sunday 5th July 2015 by The News Editor

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Captain Steph Houghton hopes England hang on to manager Mark Sampson after his tactical ingenuity guided the Lionesses to third place at the Women’s World Cup.

Sampson was plucked from Women’s Super League side Bristol Academy barely 18 months ago to lead an England side still reeling from a shocking performance at the European Championship.

He has led a regeneration of the squad, to the point where England finished the World Cup as Europe’s top side, following their 1-0 third-place play-off win over Germany in Edmonton.

Welshman Sampson is just 32, and his stock has risen rapidly. He never played football professionally but learned the trade in his home country, initially at university, going on to head up Swansea’s centre of excellence by his mid-twenties.

Success with England Women will mean Sampson has caught many an eye, but he signed a four-year contract with the Football Association in December 2013 and has shown no desire to go anywhere else.

Houghton told Press Association Sport: “We all want Mark to stay.

“It’s shown in this tournament what a great manager and coach he is, to be able to change our tactics from game to game and adjust our game plan depending on who we’ve been playing and give that element of surprise to the opposition.

“On a personal note he’s believed in me as a player and as a captain, as well as the rest of the girls, and we want him to stay and hopefully he will.”

Sampson has beckoned into his squad players who fell ostracised under previous boss Hope Powell, including World Cup stars Katie Chapman, Jodie Taylor and Lianne Sanderson.

During the World Cup he repeatedly made wholesale changes to his team line-ups, and England might have reached Sunday’s final were it not for the unfortunate own goal scored by Laura Bassett in stoppage time against Japan.

That semi-final setback was forgotten on Saturday night as England celebrated taking home bronze medals. An acrobatic clearance off the line by Houghton was a highlight of England’s performance, exemplifying the dedication to the cause that exists within the ranks.

The team fly home on Sunday, arriving back in England on Monday morning.

They might be welcomed back as heroes, but Houghton treats that tag with caution.

“I wouldn’t say we’re heroes,” said the 27-year-old, “but it’s nice to get recognised for wearing the shirt with pride and giving everything we’ve got and for the performances we’ve given in this tournament.”

One of Sampson’s first decisions as manager was to appoint Houghton.

She was an obvious captaincy candidate, and leading the team at the World Cup was an experience she relished.

“I’ve enjoyed every single minute, it’s been an amazing experience, and it’s made easier being a captain when I’ve got such a good group of team-mates and staff that have helped each other along the way,” said the County Durham-born defender, who also captains Manchester City Women.

“We’ve created a togetherness that no other team has competed with, and I’m so proud of everyone involved with England on this trip, with everyone giving their all, and I think that’s shown in our performances.

“I don’t think it’ll be until we get back that it’ll sink in what we’ve achieved over here.”

England can target Euro 2017 glory at the tournament in Holland, with their qualifiers beginning in September.

Sampson compared his team’s achievement to that of England’s 1966 World Cup winners, who achieved their feat on home soil.

“We wanted to show the nation that we can be knocked down but we can also get back up. That’s what this team did,” Sampson said in a press conference after Fara Williams’ penalty delivered the extra-time win over Germany.

“They were determined to make sure the last chapter in this story was an England win.”

Looking at the wider picture, taking in semi-final penalty shoot-out defeats to German sides at the men’s 1990 World Cup and Euro 96, Sampson added: “This nation have had 25 years of hurt and more against Germany.

“It was about time this team stepped up and found a way to start the ball facing the other direction.

“It’s an honour to be talked about in connection with the special team of 1966.

“I really hope that in 50 to 60 years’ time this team is still spoken about for some of the special moments they have brought to the world.

“In my book they’ve always been legends; I just hope the rest of the world and the rest of the country marks them as legends.”

Asked on Saturday night about what the future holds for his team, Sampson said: “All I’m concerned about is having a good time tonight.

“Let’s stick our glasses in the air and toast to a special tournament

“Ask me that in a couple of weeks’ time.”

Published: Sunday 5th July 2015 by The News Editor

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