Belfast Telegraph

Women's World Cup: Steph Houghton desperate for Mark Sampson to stay

By John Skilbeck

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 said: "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."

Sampson has beckoned into his squad players who felt 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. 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," said Houghton.

"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."

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