Reading’s Angharad James on the impact of losing EIGHT players - and praying for Welsh glory!
The players at Reading could be forgiven for bursting into a chorus of ‘Things Can only Get better’ just now.
The players who are left, that is, as a lockdown exodus has seen no less than eight of the squad leaving the club.
News of the departures came not long after the WSL was cancelled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
And, as midfielder Angharad James admits, it has ’affected the group’ who are ’disappointed’ to see them leave.
She told NewsChain: "It's affected the group, the players who have left are experienced players and players who have been at the club for a number of years.
"So it's disappointing for us to see them leave but we wish them all the best for wherever they move onto next.
“I think now is the time to look forward as a group and I know Kelly [Chambers, Reading manager] and the team are doing their recruitment.
"The players coming in will do a great job and as a group we'll move forward and start afresh next season.”
She added it will be difficult to create a new team environment when the eight new players join the club.
"That’s hard and that's helped with the staff integrating the right people and the right players. You know you can't just look at a player in their performance on the pitch.
"These days you've got to have the whole package and your personality has to fit in with the rest of the group.
“You could be the best player in the world but if your attitude is wrong and you don’t fit the style of play we look to play then it's difficult to bring that player in.
"And that starts with the staff and who they approve and as soon as they come into the team it's down to us as players to make them feel welcome.
"You know make sure they are comfortable in the environment because as soon as that happens you see the player they are and the reason why Kelly and the staff have brought them in.
“So it’s definitely down to staff and players to make sure the environment is right next season.”
It’s not just Reading who have had players leave, a range of WSL clubs have announced the departure of several players recently and James has said this is down to the length of playing contracts in the women’s game.
“I think it’s difficult to say in the women’s game, in comparison to the men’s you sign a contract of two to three years maximum, whereas in the men's you probably look at five to six years and be cemented with a club,” she added.
“But in women's you sign shorter contracts so there tends to be quite a bit of movement most years.”
This season of England’s top tier was cancelled due to the pandemic and while James can see why the Football Association made the decision, she wished the announcement came sooner.
"I think [we as players found out] a day before it was announced to everyone. [The announcement] was pretty late to be honest, at that point we had been training eight to nine weeks.
"So it was getting to the point as a group of players where we needed an answer as to what was going to happen because our bodies couldn’t physically continue to train at the level we need to compete at.
“So fortunately for us a decision was made so we can have a few weeks off before we start again for next season.”
And while many have criticised the FA for cancelling the women’s league when the men’s Premier League is returning on June 17, James has said the men’s and women’s games cannot be compared.
"I understand why the FA prolonged it like they did, for the majority I think [they thought] if the men’s league was going to continue then why not the women’s?
"But I think we have to look at the sports completely differently as we are at completely different points right now and I think the revenue in the women’s game is completely different.
"To test [players for coronavirus] every other day in the women’s game and to afford that, it wasn’t going to happen and I think we knew that weeks before the decision was made.
"So as a group of players we knew that it wasn’t going to be affordable but you know the FA, rightly so, wanted to continue the season. As did the players, we had played 60 per cent of the games, so just to have it cancelled was not what we wanted.
“But I'm glad the decision came eventually although it would have been nice if it came a little bit sooner.”
James also plays for Wales who are currently playing in qualifiers to compete at the Euros. Their next match is due to take place in September against Norway - a game that had been postponed due to the pandemic.
She has said this has been a blessing and a curse.
"[The postponement] was difficult because as a group of players we had a good camp in north Wales and we gained some good momentum to go into that Norway game, which in our group is the most difficult game.
"However, I think this time could be good for us as we did lose a few players to injury, so if the game did go ahead when it was scheduled we would not have had four to five players due to injury.
“Jess Fishlock will now be back for the game which she was touch and go for as we didn’t know if she would recover from her ACL in time, so to have a player like her back in the team is massive for us and gives us more time to build and work on things to try and get a result against Norway.”
Wales have four qualifiers left to play: Norway away, Faroe Islands at home, Norway at home and Belarus at home.
If they qualify for the tournament, James and her team-mates will have to wait a year longer than expected to compete in their first major competition.
The Women’s Euros were scheduled for next summer but as the men’s tournament was postponed for the same time frame, the women’s competition has been moved to 2022.
The only difficult aspect the delay presents for James is if some of Wales’ experienced players decide to retire before then.
"The postponement was disappointing, as athletes you have a routine and you know in advance what your schedule is.
"[But] for other players to come back in and younger players to develop further, our squad is a mixed one in our age range, it gives the younger players an extra year.
"Which for the stage that they’re at could be massive and we could be even stronger.
"Hopefully we can keep a hold of the more experienced players. I think that will probably be the most difficult aspect, ensuring they stay within the group as if they move on and retire now they would possibly miss out on a final tournament spot.
"It's going to be difficult for the group as there are five or six players in the category of whether they retire or not, so that’s probably the most difficult part.
“But I think the extra year will make us stronger and give us an extra year to do the best we can to prepare for it.”