For professional footballers ‘form’ is a sensitive subject. It can change like the wind changes, come and go to fit and shine.
For an aspiring newcomer to carve out a space on the international scene, more than a fleeting moment, form must be carried over a lifetime or longer. Enough to get noticed, but also shows staying power.
For some, especially younger and less experienced prospects, the transition is difficult and takes time. For others (infinitesimal in number) it is useless.
Chelsea’s Lauren James falls into the latter category, forcing his way into the picture despite the abundance of attacking treasures in England, and the status as reigning European champions – a chapter to watch said James from the stands.
A player whose potential has been unleashed this term, James has a stellar pedigree. Just a quick glance will show how hard he goes through a pitch, as if it’s a fun-filled playground game.
Sister of Chelsea men’s starlet Reece James, her natural ability is astounding. The ball is his constant companion as he bobs and weaves between opposition defenders, using both feet to attract players, like a moth to a flame. Fans who frequent Chelsea’s home of Kingsmeadow will recognize the routine.
If England need it, James has the potential to be Sarina Wiegman’s secret weapon at this summer’s World Cup. The 21-year-old has been floating around the WSL scene since making his debut as a teenager, but 2022-23 marks his arrival. England’s calling year.
Praise for James’ impact over the past 10 months has been widespread. His form has caught the eye both locally and internationally, and the list of admirers is long.
“I think he’s a cheat code,” England captain Leah Williamson said of the young forward while competing in the Arnold Clark Cup in February. “The girl is incredible.”
“She is a big, big talent,” commented Lionesses boss Wiegman at the time.
February 16 was the exact date that James marked his arrival in England with the first intention. Two subtle touches inside the South Korean box, shifting weight from left to right, and the ball hits the back of the net.
The strike showed James’ talent, but more than that, revealed the excitement of winning on the big stage.
Such tenacity and finality will serve Wiegman’s side well in Australia.
James also brings an air of unpredictability – few international coaches are fully familiar with his work. He is tricky, and hard to teach. A master of Houdini-style tricks, able to pop up in different positions without really keeping track of how he got there.
Because of the freedom to roam he can use pockets of space to devastating effect, act as an outlet, or the center of a quick counter-offensive. The running power of a winger with the touch and vision of a cultured playmaker.
Wiegman’s assessment: “Lauren is very strong, tight on the ball and has speed.” In fact, James’ evolution is a reflection of how England continues to evolve in Wiegman’s mold. Additional profits.
James himself credits the Dutchwoman with part of his recent growth. “He gave me time and he allowed me to be me,” the forward said. “I believe that’s how you get the best out of people, by letting them be free.”
It’s important to note that England will not be short of options up front this summer, despite missing Euro 2022 Golden Boot winner Beth Mead through injury, and while James’ campaign has been impressive he has not earned an automatic queue jump .
For Wiegman, there are strict checks and balances, a series of tests to pass before you can be trusted with a starting shirt. However, James’ presence will be healthy competition for the likes of Lauren Hemp, Chloe Kelly and even Ella Toone. Or a trump card if needed.
This young, hungry squad should welcome a new face or two.
Driving speed, forward speed and accuracy, give James an unstoppable edge. This is what sets him apart. The final product may need refinement, but the 21-year-old, who will start his first major tournament, is a real powerhouse with an owner – one of England’s best promoters.
And don’t be afraid to dream too. “I want to feel like they felt last summer,” he said Sky Sports recently.
Every major competition has a rising star. In 2022, we are all swept away by Alessia Russo-mania. Help me, Lauren.