England are in the World Cup final and one of the big reasons has been the form of Millie Bright, the stand-in captain and my old Chelsea and Lionesses teammate. It is incredible to think how well she has done in this tournament considering at one stage she was a doubt to make it after a knee injury in March.
It did not surprise me she was fit to start the first match against Haiti because I know first-hand of her work ethic and determination. I trained with her for years, so I am well aware of her mentality and character. She will have done everything to make sure she was ready and did not have to suffer the pain of watching a World Cup from the stands.
When Leah Williamson was ruled out with her anterior cruciate ligament injury it was a huge blow because she has been a fantastic captain under Sarina Wiegman. Bright was the natural choice to replace her because she has been a leader for her entire career, regardless of whether she wears the armband. She has always been a key figure in the dressing room and commands respect from the rest of the players.
Against Haiti, I was thinking Bright still needed minutes to be back to her sharpest but she does not need too long to get up to speed after a layoff and she has been colossal in the heart of the defence since that game. It is difficult to pick out one person in this team when everyone has been integral in reaching Sunday’s final against Spain but Bright does deserve great credit. If she had not made it to the World Cup, I doubt England would have got this far.
Bright is part of an incredible group of six players who have provided the base for this success. England have conceded three goals in six games and the defence have not received enough recognition for this achievement.
Behind Bright there is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world in Mary Earps, who has bounced back from the Colombia match where her positioning wasn’t spot on for Leicy Santos’s goal. To Bright’s left is Alex Greenwood, who was not afforded as much game time as she would have wanted at the Euros last year, but after slotting in seamlessly has provided great balance with her wonderful left foot.
Jess Carter is on the other side, a player troubled by absolutely nothing and another who did not play much – one substitute’s appearance – during last summer’s triumph. They have formed this tremendous back three since the formation switch against China that has allowed Lucy Bronze and Rachel Daly not to do too much defending and to go forward and express themselves.
Bright leads by example. She will put her body on the line and give everything from start to finish. She is fearless and will spend the entire game encouraging teammates, who see how much effort she is putting in and react, knowing she is setting the tone for everyone else. I have mentioned before how mentally resilient this England team are and Bright is a beacon of that.
Bright reads the game incredibly well and is a commanding presence who organises everyone around her. She is very intelligent and will have done all the necessary research on each forward she has faced at the World Cup to make sure she knows them as well as possible. In both boxes she is great in the air and her long-ball distribution is a fine asset, which we saw for Lauren Hemp’s goal against Australia.
I will always remember her for the things that go unnoticed and judge her on the work she put in when no one was watching except her teammates. We shared some great moments on the pitch but my standout memories are of her always being in the gym, doing her recovery to the letter, eating well and giving everything in training – she left nothing out on the pitch.
Most of us only see the tip of the iceberg rather than everything that keeps it there and for Bright, professionalism and determination are major assets. She never let us down.
Carter, another of my former Chelsea and England teammates, has been asked to play in a new position on the right of three centre-backs but I am not surprised by how well she has adapted because she has moved around throughout her career – at Birmingham as a teenager she was a left-back. On her debut for them she was awarded player of the match as a 16-year-old in a Champions League quarter-final and the following month, in the semi-finals, she marked the Brazil legend Marta out of a match.
Carter accepts not being the best on the ball but few want to take her on in a one-v-one, a physical battle or a race because she will almost always come out on top.
Spain will not faze England’s mentality monster defenders. Bright is the ultimate Lioness and has been on an incredible journey in her career. It would be amazing to see her lift the trophy on Sunday.