After a year out of the international reckoning, Rachel Daly has enjoyed an England renaissance under new boss Phil Neville.
Plying her trade across the pond, the 26-year-old was voted Houston Dash’s most valuable player for 2018 after scoring a career-high 10 goals and thrice being named in the NWSL team of the month.
This fine run of form didn’t go unnoticed by Neville, who added Daly to his SheBelieves Cup squad in the spring.
- DOB: 06.12.91
- Club: Houston Dash
- Caps: 17
- Goals: 3
- Debut: v Serbia, 04.06.16
She came off the bench in the 2-2 draw with Germany – her first international appearance since last March – and has gone on to feature in 10 of the last 11 matches, helping the Lionesses to qualify for next year’s World Cup.
“I think I’ve been quite consistent for England recently,” said Daly. “I think a part of that is down to confidence and the fact that I have been in the last few squads.
“It’s been great to be involved a lot these last few games and I was delighted to get a goal against Kazakhstan because I hadn’t scored for England for a while.”
Daly earned England recognition at youth level, including being a part of the squad at the FIFA Women’s U17 World Cup in 2008, but she had to wait patiently for her first involvement with the seniors.
The nod finally came in December 2013 when Daly travelled to a training camp in La Manga, though it was another two years before she made her debut, scoring in a Euro qualifying win over Serbia in June 2016.
Daly featured in three of the last four qualifiers but just missed out on a place in the squad for the finals. And she is determined to make amends next year.
“I’ve had a bit of a difficult journey with England,” she said.
“I was in a lot of squads in the build-up to the Euros but I wasn’t in the squad for the tournament itself. The main thing missing in my career is a major tournament and I’d absolutely love to be in the World Cup squad.
“Sometimes I think my versatility has worked against me because I’ve never really had a set position with England.
“I sat down with Phil quite early on and I told him I was sick of missing out on major tournaments. But he looked me in the eye and said he wanted to make the most of me. That stuck with me.
“So when I train now, I’m not just looking to improve as a forward or as a full back; I’m working on becoming the best complete player I can be.
“I’m always looking to improve to put myself in the best possible position to be at the World Cup next year. It would mean the world to me and my family.”
Even though Daly isn’t assured of her place at France 2019, she has been involved in enough England squads over the last two and a half years to understand the amount of work that needs to be done ahead of next summer’s showpiece.
“We know what we need to do,” she said.
“We’re ranked third in the world but we want to be first. And to do that we’ve got to match up and beat the top sides consistently.
“I speak to the Houston girls all the time and a lot of them say they don’t like playing against England and I take that as a compliment because we don’t want people to look forward to facing us. But we need to turn that into consistent results against the best.
“We’re not happy with being third or fourth in the world. There’s still a bit of work to do but I don’t think it’s out of our reach by any means. We’ve got enough time to prepare for France and the sorts of tests we’re going to face.”
There were three new faces in the squad for England’s last two matches, against Austria and Sweden, in the shape of goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck, playmaker Georgia Stanway, both 19, and striker Chioma Ubogagu, with the latter two scoring on their debuts.
The aforementioned trio were included in the 23 just two months after seven other young players were handed their senior team debuts in Kazakhstan.
“The kids we’ve got coming through are great,” said Daly, “and a lot of them showed that in the U20 World Cup. They were phenomenal in that tournament.
“Phil likes to bring young players in if he thinks they’re good enough and that’s definitely been the case with the last few squads.
“Competition for places is always healthy and it helps keep everyone on their toes. There’s definitely pressure in every position now.
“Maybe it spurs us older ones on that little bit more because we’re not getting any younger and we can see the quality of player that’s coming through! But that’s obviously a great thing for the national team going forward.”