Ellen White: How England’s record scorer will be remembered

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Ellen White reacts to winning the Euros
Ellen White competed in three World Cups and three Euros with England

When Alessia Russo scored that outrageous backheel at Euro 2022, the player she had replaced sat on the bench with her eyes gleaming and mouthing “wow” as she watched on.

It was a moment which summed up Ellen White – the legendary England striker who announced her retirement from football on Monday.

Russo had provided stiff competition for White’s place in the starting XI during the Euros but the satisfaction of watching her score in the semi-final meant more to White than the threat of potentially losing her place for Wembley’s showpiece against Germany.

There are few players, and certainly strikers, who are as selfless as White and her willingness to do everything for the team has been infectious.

Everything White has done in her career has been for the greater good of her team-mates, whether that be taking a step back from the limelight at Euro 2022, her relentless running off the ball during games to create space or close down opposition, or even putting herself forward for media duties as a senior figure for both club and country.

She has faced criticism at times over dips in form but has always bounced back to deliver goals, commanding respect for her performances, while never faltering in her professionalism.

Her retirement comes two weeks before England are set to play Austria and Luxembourg in their final World Cup qualifiers. She was heavily fancied to add to her tally of 52 goals for England – one short of Wayne Rooney’s all-time goalscoring record. But it is not records which White has bothered herself with.

After becoming the Lionesses’ all-time top scorer, she joked to the media she was “relieved” she did not have to talk about it anymore and dedicated the record to her family: “The goals are all for them. I just want to make them proud,” she said.

Ellen White
Ellen White played alongside close friend Steph Houghton for Manchester City and England between 2019 and 2022

In the public eye, White is perceived to be humble, private and highly professional. She is strongly family-orientated and has often spoken of her pride playing for England.

Dawn Scott, the Football Association’s former physical performance manager, once highlighted White as one of the most progressive footballers, willing to take on board any scientific advice which could positively affect her performances through diet, recovery and preparation.

A key factor in her move to Manchester City was a conversation with close friend Steph Houghton around the club’s culture and how it could aid White’s development.

She was meticulous in the way she trained, driven in her efforts and highly ambitious – traits which clearly stood out for England manager Sarina Wiegman, who named her as part of the leadership group for this summer’s Euro success.

But to friends and team-mates, White was not just the perfect professional, but also a fun and playful character – though still fiercely competitive.

She was the first England player to take on the media at a basketball challenge in the team’s hotel this summer and there were strong rumours she had been practising… a lot. “I’m nervous” she joked before thrashing her opponent.

Alessia Russo and Ellen White
Alessia Russo said it was a privilege to play and train alongside Ellen White

White’s legacy as one of England’s greatest players was sealed at the World Cup in 2019 when she finished joint-top scorer, becoming a household name with her ‘goggle-eyes’ celebration.

Her name was displayed on the backs of countless shirts this summer as she competed in her sixth major tournament with England.

She will be in the record books for her impressive goals tally in an England shirt, as well as the countless trophies she has won at club level during a career which has spanned more than two decades.

But perhaps her biggest legacy will be the impact she leaves on the younger generation – both fans watching on and the rising stars who have played alongside her.

White has been a leader in the dressing room, a role model in training and a trustworthy friend behind the scenes.

After team-mate Chloe Kelly suffered a devastating knee injury weeks before the Olympic Games, White was one of the first players to run across to console her.

When Ella Toone and Georgia Stanway scored in the Euro quarter-final win over Spain, White wasted no time in speaking of her pride in them in post-match interviews.

She has often been described as a parent-like figure to Lauren Hemp and it was young captain Leah Williamson who she embraced at full-time after England’s historic win over Germany last month.

Her influence on the successful culture Wiegman has built with England has been huge, while her experience and leadership will leave its mark on Manchester City.

“I aspire to be that one day,” Russo said a few months ago and she will not be the only one as White ends her career at the top of the game having achieved the one thing she craved most – making her family proud as a European champion.

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