Chelsea boss Emma Hayes refused to step on England manager Sarina Wiegman’s toes when asked if Lauren James should return to the Lionesses’ starting line-up for Sunday’s World Cup final against Spain.
The 21-year-old Blues forward scored three goals and picked up the same number of assists before she was sent off in the Lionesses’ last-16 victory over Nigeria and given a two-match ban for stepping on the back of defender Michelle Alozie.
Having served her punishment during the quarter- and semi-finals, James is now available to reclaim her spot in Wiegman’s starting XI – but she remains in competition with replacement Ella Toone, who netted the Lionesses’ opener in their 3-1 last-four victory to eliminate co-hosts Australia.
James’ club boss Hayes said: “I think you know, I’m a manager but picking someone else’s team is not my job. It’s Sarina’s. My job is to enjoy it. Those players are prepared for whatever happens and for whatever team Sarina picks. I’m sure Lauren would be ready.
“Lauren is just very excited to be in a World Cup final as all of the England players are. They are all excited.
“It’s about England as a team and England as a whole and they have all stepped up and filled in, whether that’s Katie Zelem who filled in for Keira Walsh or Ella Toone at least filling in for Lauren James after that quarter-final.
“Lauren is an outstanding player and will go on to contribute many more moments for both club and country. As always she will be reflective and will move forward with that.”
James, who apologised for the red-card incident on social media, came off the bench in England’s 1-0 Haiti opener to kick-start their undefeated path to the final, then scored the winner against Denmark in her first World Cup start.
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) August 18, 2023
She bagged a brace in the Lionesses’ thumping 6-1 win over China to conclude the group stage, also assisting three goals in that rout.
James’ stock has risen under the watchful eye of Hayes, who has won the Women’s Super League (WSL) manager of the year award six times, including the past four seasons, and predicted her Chelsea charge would be vital to the European champions’ hopes of lifting a first World Cup.
Hayes was named FIFA’s best manager in the women’s game in 2021, succeeding Wiegman, who has now won the award three times after also receiving the honour following England’s Euro 2022 triumph.
It is no surprise, then, that both women’s names have been floated as potential candidates to take over the US women’s team, a role made vacant on Thursday after US Soccer announced the federation and Vlatko Andonovski had agreed to part ways.
U.S. Soccer and Vlatko Andonovski Mutually Agree to Part Ways » https://t.co/YupK3TDouD
— U.S. Women's National Soccer Team (@USWNT) August 17, 2023
The decision came after the FIFA world number one-ranked Americans not only failed to defend their back-to-back titles, but were knocked out by Sweden in a last-16 penalty shootout for their worst-ever finish.
Hayes, who has managed Chelsea since 2012, said: “I suspected that question would come up.
“I’m very happy at Chelsea, I’ve made that clear. I’ve been there for 11 years, it’s my home. I think the US has wonderful players and perhaps the tournament didn’t go the way they wanted but my focus is on getting home and preparing the team for the start of the season.”