No striker wants to be a super-sub, but it’s been working perfectly for England striker Alessia Russo so far.
There is an argument that she should face Spain in the quarter-finals on Wednesday. If she played any other position, she probably would. But there is little chance that Sarina Wiegman will drop star striker Ellen White.
It is likely that if Alessia Russo played in a different position, she would start against Spain
She came off the bench three times at the European Championship and scored three goals for England
Before the tournament began, it was clear that White, the Lionesses’ record goalscorer, would be the starting striker. Russo has only started for England once, in a EURO warm-up game against Switzerland, and her other nine caps have come as a substitute.
But every time she played, she took her chance. In November, she came off the bench and scored an 11-minute hat-trick – the fastest of any Lioness – against Latvia. And since her debut in 2020, no player has had a better goals-per-minute ratio than Russo – who averages a goal every 49.1 minutes.
Russo probably knew her role in this tournament would be as a substitute and that may have provided extra motivation. She looked energetic and determined every time she came off the bench.
The forward (L) is expected to make a significant impression from the bench on Wednesday
There’s also an argument that you don’t have to fix what ain’t broke. The white start and the substitution of Russo have done England well so far. White wears down and tires defenders with their off-ball work, which the explosive Russo can then exploit once introduced by Wiegman.
It’s also important to remember that White has a wealth of experience in tournament football, despite this being Russo’s first senior international competition.
White was the top scorer for England at the 2019 World Cup and for Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics with six goals each. She was also one of the best players on the pitch when England beat Norway 8-0 in the second group game before being replaced by Russo.
The 23-year-old Russo is undoubtedly the long-term successor to White, who is ten years his senior. What is most impressive about the Manchester United forward is the different types of goals she can score, as demonstrated by her brace against Northern Ireland.
Russo (R) is the likely replacement for veteran forward Ellen White (L) for the Lionesses
The first goal, a header from a Beth Mead cross, showed her strength and power. The second, arguably the best goal England have scored so far in the tournament required skill and composure. Russo took Ella Toone’s pass on the half turn, flicked it through her own legs, leaped past the Northern Ireland defense and slammed the ball into the net.
“I enjoy every game in an England shirt and it’s great to come on and score a goal,” Russo said after her performance at Southampton. “Tournament football is tough and club football is tough – unfortunately there are only 11 places in the team.
“The competition is so high in training. We just work hard and whether you’re starting or on the bench you’re just trying to hit 11 to go wide and get that score and then when you’re called on you’re ready. The group of girls is amazing and we love being with them every day.
“We have such threats for the future. Of course I want to play for England in every game but I know I have to be patient. I’ll take my time when I have it and keep training hard.
White (pictured) remains at the top of the England strikers pecking order under Wiegman
Russo (L) has averaged a goal every 49.1 minutes for England since her debut in 2020
One man in Russo’s corner is former England striker Ian Wright, who visited the team’s hotel ahead of the game against Northern Ireland. “He came into camp, it’s great to have someone like him who is a kind of torch for women’s football. We actually watched each other’s goals, so maybe his goals inspired me.
Russo is showing a determination that may be due to the two serious injuries she’s already sustained in her short career.
The first was a broken leg she sustained in her sophomore year at the University of North Carolina. The second was a serious hamstring injury which required surgery and saw her miss most of the 2020-21 season at United.
This is Russo’s first taste of international football – a factor that could influence Wiegman’s thinking
Russo felt like a signing for her club as she returned for the 2021-22 season. Her nine WSL goals and four assists earned her United’s Player of the Year honors and her place in Wiegman’s Euro squad.
The exciting thing about Russo is that she just keeps getting better. “They haven’t even seen half of it,” said their Manchester United manager Marc Skinner last season.
“This is her first season after a really bad injury and I was very happy. Now we’re at a point where we’re seeing the real Alessia Russo and I know there’s so much more to come.”