As England are preparing to play Australia in the World Cup semi-finals so too, crucially, is Georgia Stanway. After playing through five matches at the tournament on a yellow card and with the threat of a one-match suspension hanging over her head, the combative Lionesses midfielder successfully walked the tightrope to reach the point where bookings are wiped.
A younger Stanway perhaps wouldn’t have been so careful, and would have fallen foul of her instincts to challenge for balls that were not there to be won. There was, admittedly, one nervous moment, during the heat of battle against Colombia in the quarter-finals, when Stanway thought she had pushed her aggression too far after a mistimed tackle. Overall, though, the midfielder has shown restraint and control to reach the semi-finals in the clear. “I’m very, very grateful about that,” Stanway laughs, and England are as well.
To do so, Stanway had to become “disciplined Georgia”, a change in mental approach that has been worked on with the help of an influential mentor, whose identity comes as a surprise to those who are gathered at England’s Terrigal training base. Stanway is candid as she credits much of her development as a player and as a person to Luke Chadwick, the former Manchester United winger, who she has been speaking to on the night before each match at the World Cup.
Stanway reveals the advice and guidance she has received has proved crucial at a World Cup that has been full of challenges, with her pre-match chats with Chadwick providing her with a space and open platform to visualise and focus on what has been required. “We’ve spoken before each game and that just allows me to process the information that we’ve got from England, and process the information that I’ve done throughout the season,” Stanway says. “It’s aboout staying level and being consistent in the way that I am as a person and the way that I am on the field.”
Stanway’s career could have taken a different direction without Chadwick’s support, however. Chadwick made 25 Premier League appearances for Manchester United after making his debut as an 18-year-old in 1999, but struggled with his mental health in the early part of his career after the way he looked was routinely mocked on primetime BBC TV show They Think It’s All Over. As a young man, Chadwick bottled up his emotions but has since been empowered by opening up and highlighting the importance of talking. Following the end of his playing days, Chadwick has been determined that up-and-coming players do not suffer in silence like he did.
“He went through his battles as a player and I was facing, not similar battles, but I was facing my individual battles at Manchester City,” Stanway reveals. “I’m not afraid to say it, I went through a time at City where it was a little bit up and down in terms of my mentality, my position, everything was changing and he [Chadwick] was my go-to in terms of getting clarity on my position, clarity on what I wanted to achieve in that season.”
Chadwick’s role became even more important when Stanway made a big career move last summer and took the decision to leave City. Just days after starring in England’s Euros win – where she started in every game, scoring a crucial equaliser against Spain in the quarter-finals – Stanway packed her bags and joined German giants Bayern Munich. Stanway didn’t know anyone in Munich, and didn’t speak a word of German, but was determined to get out of her comfort zone.
The decision has clearly paid off, and not just for her. Stanway arrived at Bayern as a European champion and made the central-midfield position her own on her way to helping the club reclaim the Bundesliga title. In turn, it has benefitted the Lionesses. Four years ago, Stanway was the youngest player in England’s World Cup squad – at 20, she was an 89th minute substitute in England’s 2-1 defeat to the USA in the semi-finals – but she has since grown and matured into a leadership role and the Lionesses have needed her more than ever.
“I’m in an environment where I’m not young anymore,” Stanway says. “I’ve been to major tournaments. I’ve been successful at club in terms of domestic trophies, so you’ve got to mature and you’ve got to be more of a leader. I think Bayern has massively helped that. Then I come to England and get the freedom and have the players around me that I’ve built connections with over a long period of time.”
(The FA via Getty Images)
The World Cup has been a test of that and Stanway has been required to step up due to the loss of key players such as Leah Williamson, Beth Mead and Fran Kirby before the tournament. In Australia, Stanway has then had to fill in for midfield partner Keira Walsh when she was injured against Denmark. The suspension of Lauren James then meant Stanway had to assume more creative responsibility in the quarter-final against Colombia, where she set up Alessia Russo’s winner.
Throughout the World Cup, it did not need to be pointed out to her that England could not afford another absence, which put pressure on Stanway from the moment she picked up an early yellow card in the opening game against Haiti. Stanway walked a fine line as England faced tough, physical and competitive games against both Nigeria in the last-16 and Colombia in the quarter-finals.
(The FA via Getty Images)
It was a key topic during Stanway’s pre-match chats with her mentor Chadwick, where the midfielder told herself that she needed to be “disciplined Georgia”. It helped Stanway visualise what was needed, and bring a “sensible” approach to a playing style that relies on tenacity I think over the last four games I think I’ve just picked and chose when I do need to go for it and when I don’t,” she says.
With her yellow card wiped, Stanway is set to be released against Australia, a fixture that appears purpose-built to the full-blooded approach that Stanway would usually bring to every game. Stanway, though, is determined to take a long-term lesson from her spell of self-control, with the Lionesses set to require cool heads when they face the Matildas and a home crowd of over 75,000 at Stadium Australia. One thing for certain though is that a call with Chadwick will remain key to her preparations. “I’ve found what works for me,” Stanway smiles. “So I’m not going to change that.”