For professional football players ‘form’ is a sensitive subject. It can fluctuate like the changing of the wind, coming and going in fits and spurts.
In order for an aspiring newcomer to carve a space on the international scene, more than a fleeting moment, form needs to carry across a season or longer. Enough to get noticed, but also indicate staying power.
For some, particularly younger and less experienced hopefuls, the transition is tough and takes time. For others (infinitely less in number) it’s seamless.
Chelsea’s Lauren James falls into the latter category, forcing her way into the picture despite England’s abundance of attacking riches, and status as reigning European champions – a chapter James watched from the stands.
A player whose potential has been unleashed this term, James has stellar pedigree. Only a brief glimpse would demonstrate how effortlessly she glides across a pitch, as if it were nothing more than a fun-filled playground kick-about.
Sister of Chelsea men’s starlet Reece James, her natural ability is astonishing. The ball is her constant companion as she bobs and weaves between opposition defenders, using both feet to draw players in, like a moth to a flame. Fans who regularly attend Chelsea’s home at Kingsmeadow would recognise the routine.
Should England require 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 landscape since making her debut as a teenager, but 2022-23 has marked her arrival. The year England came calling.
Praise for James’ impact over the past 10 months has been widespread. Her form has caught the eye both domestically and internationally, and the list of admirers is long.
“I think she’s a cheat code,” England captain Leah Williamson said of the young forward while competing at the Arnold Clark Cup back in February. “The girl is incredible.”
“She is a big, big talent,” Lionesses boss Wiegman commented at the time.
February 16 is the precise date James marked her England coming with a first goal. Two cunning touches inside South Korea’s box, shifting weight from left to right, and the ball had hit the back of the net.
The strike was demonstrative of James’ talent, but more than that, revealed an eagerness to grace the big stage.
Such composure and finality will serve Wiegman’s side well in Australia.
James also carries an air of unpredictability – few international coaches will be entirely familiar with her work. She is deceptive, and hard to pin down. A master of the Houdini-style trick, able to pop up in different positions with no real trace of how she got there.
Given the freedom to roam she can use pockets of space to devastating effect, acting as the outlet, or the focal point 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 powerful, tight on the ball and has speed.” Indeed, James’ evolution is a manifestation of how England continue to progress in Wiegman’s mould. Incremental gains.
James herself has credited the Dutchwoman with part of her recent growth. “She’s given me time and she’s let me 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 England will not be short of forward options this summer, despite losing Euro 2022 Golden Boot winner Beth Mead to injury, and while James’ campaign has been impressive she has not earned automatic queue jump.
For Wiegman, there are strict checks and balances, a series of tests to pass before you are trusted with a starting shirt. Nonetheless, James’ presence will be healthy rivalry for the likes of Lauren Hemp, Chloe Kelly and even Ella Toone. Or a trump card if needed.
This young, hungry squad should be receptive to a fresh face or two.
Driving runs, surging forwards with pace and precision, gives James an irresistible edge. It’s what stands her apart. End product perhaps needs refinement, but the 21-year-old, who will be embarking on her first major tournament, is a real powerhouse in possession – one of England’s best instigators.
And unafraid to dream too. “I’d like to feel the same as they felt last summer,” she told Sky Sports recently.
Every major competition contains a rising star. In 2022, we were all swept up by Alessia Russo-mania. Over to you, Lauren.