Less than three years ago, Beth England looked as if she may no longer have a Chelsea future. Fast forward 34 months, and she is suddenly the player the Blues turn to on the biggest occasions.
On 14 September 2017, England was shipped out on loan to Liverpool. Her goals had helped fire Doncaster Belles to promotion from the second tier during the 2015 season, and she signed for Chelsea in the following transfer window.
But it appeared that after a little under two years with the club, she had been deemed not good enough to cut it at the very top of the women’s game.
Chelsea boasted a wealth of attacking options – Fran Kirby, Ramona Bachmann, Karen Carney and Eni Aluko – and unable to force her way past such a plethora of talent, England was deployed at left wingback during the 2017 Spring Series. Four months after the season’s conclusion, England was off to Liverpool.
Players who Emma Hayes sends out on loan do not tend to find their way back into the Chelsea first team.
Just ask Jodie Brett, Jade Bailey, Rosella Ayane and Laura Rafferty, who were all loaned out in their early 20s, and are all now plying their trade elsewhere having not got a look in at Kingsmeadow upon their return.
The tone was set for England to spend a season on Merseyside and not pull on a Chelsea shirt again.
Instead, the forward hit 10 WSL goals for Liverpool during the 2017/18 season – only Nikita Parris and Ellen White scored more – and she has since gone on to established herself as not only a Chelsea regular, but Chelsea’s match winner.
The loan spell proved to be a masterstroke from manager Emma Hayes, as it provided England with the confidence that she had the ability to lead the line, score big goals and cut it in the WSL.
She returned to west London the following season with a new lease of life and finished as the club’s top scorer, hitting 12 WSL goals.
England went up another gear during the 2019/20 campaign and was rightfully awarded the Barclays Player of the Season Award. She found the net 14 times despite the season being curtailed early, with goals that were both spectacular and vital in equal measure.
On the opening day of the season, Chelsea played Tottenham at Stamford Bridge in front of over 24,000 people. England settled proceedings with a stunning long distance left footed effort.
She popped up again with a similarly astounding goal during Chelsea’s 3-3 draw with Man City. Different foot, same outcome. Had the Blues lost that game, City would have won the league title.
While she may have scored two fewer goals than Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema, each of England’s strikes have been so crucial. She has found the net in every big game for Chelsea this season – home and away against both Man City and Arsenal and twice in the Continental Cup final. In a WSL season determined by the very finest of margins, England’s goals have been worth their weight in gold.
When Hayes recruited Australian striker Sam Kerr in January, widely regarded as one of the finest footballers on the planet, England was not to be displaced from the starting forward role that she has made her own.
While three years ago she was shunted out to left wingback because she could not dislodge Carney, Kirby, Aluko and Bachmann, in 2020 Hayes changed her entire system in order to accommodate both England and the world class Kerr.
The pair were already forming a promising partnership before the season was cut short, and a fully fledged England-Kerr double act is a mouthwatering prospect for Chelsea fans ahead of next season.
England’s success is a story of hard graft, mental strength and sheer determination. But her boss Emma Hayes – who was also honoured with the Manager of the Season Award – deserves a slice of credit for her shrewd player management of the 26-year-old.
Sending England out on loan to Liverpool instead of allowing her to wallow on the bench was huge for her confidence. England went to Merseyside with a point to prove, and she did just that. And she hasn’t stopped proving points since.