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Remember the name after impressive senior England debut

Grace Clinton’s England debut could not have gone better. The 20-year-old midfielder was heavily praised by her teammates and manager after marking her first Lionesses cap with a goal.

The Manchester United midfielder is on loan at Tottenham this season and was one of England manager Sarina Wiegman’s choices to start midfield as she heavily rotated her squad ahead of facing Austria in a friendly to begin 2024.

Clinton was one of five goal scorers in the 7-2 win in Algeciras, Spain, netting her first England goal and the Lionesses’ second of the evening inside 20 minutes. Her tenacity shone after almost netting just moments prior, before she ghosted into the box to meet Lauren Hemp’s cross with her head.

Despite playing a bit deeper than her normal midfield role, taking up the ‘number eight’ position for England, Clinton did not look out of place, slotting seemlessly into a trio with Georgia Stanway, also playing out of position in a deeper role as the ‘six’, and Ella Toone who was called at the in last minute to replace Fran Kirby in a precautionary change.

Full of praise for the young debutant, Wiegman embraced the talent when she was subbed off at half-time, before taking her place among England’s glittering jewels on the bench for the second half.

“She plays like a natural,” Wiegman said afterwards, brimming with pride for the midfielder.

“She wants to have the ball. She picks up the things we talk about very quickly and that’s what you see on the pitch too. It was a new role for her so we did some tactics and some individual things and you can tell she takes things on board. She just goes out there and plays.”

Whilst on camp in Marbella, England are joined by Emma Coates’ Under-23 Lionesses. Clinton recently graduated from the youth setup and broke into the senior squad alongside several others, including Khiara Keating and Jess Park, who also featured in the latter stages of Friday’s game.

Relishing in her perfect debut, Clinton said, “I can’t even describe it to be honest, it feels amazing.”

She continued: “I found out on Thursday night [I was starting]. Throughout the week you might have ideas and stuff, but I couldn’t believe it. It’s surreal but you work so hard to get these moments so you really have to soak it in.”

In the stands of Estadio Neuvo Mirador were Clinton’s parents who had flown over to southern Spain in the hopes of seeing their daughter get on the pitch in a senior England shirt for the first time. Speaking ahead of sharing the joyous moment with her family, Clinton admitted she couldn’t wait to see their reaction but expected a possible “harsh” debrief from her dad on where she could improve.

“My dad knows his football so he will have a proper chat with me and I’ll be there a while,” she said.

Clinton also recounted the support from her teammates and, after dazzling in the new role, will surely be given an opportunity to do so again. That could be as soon as Tuesday in England’s next friendly against Italy to round off this month’s warm weather training camp.

“The girls supported me so much. It was nice playing with Tooney because I know her really well and Georgia was really helpful behind – so really comfortable,” added Clinton.

“The number eight position this season is a bit new to me. Sarina told me at the start of the week she was trying new things so to be in there is different, but nice.”

Grace Clinton, Ella Toone

Grace Clinton and Ella Toone are teammates at Manchester United / Naomi Baker/GettyImages

Manchester City centre-back Alex Greenwood wore the captain’s armband for England on Friday, and Clinton’s fellow Scouser was full of pride for the debutant after the match.

“Obviously we’re really proud of Grace for taking her opportunity and getting herself a goal,” the defender said. “She’s brilliant. She’s actually really mature for her age and is obviously a fellow Scouser as well so that’s always nice to have another one in the camp.”

With four goals and two assists in 13 appearances for Tottenham, Clinton has been a standout performer for Robert Vilahamn’s side in the WSL, but Greenwood believes the sky is the limit and there is plenty more to come from the emerging talent as her career continues to flourish.

“She’s a great kid, really energetic, wants to learn and is always asking questions, which I love about her. She takes criticism really well and wants to improve,” said Greenwood.

“I think she’s a really good midfielder on the ball and makes good runs into the box. She’s an intelligent footballer and it’s exciting that she still has so much to work on actually.”

Clinton’s club-mate Toone echoed her compatriot’s words: “I absolutely loved [playing with Grace]. She’s a great player, a lot of talent, very good on the ball.

“To link up with her, we’ve never done that before, we’ve never played together but it felt so natural. I knew where she was and she knew where I was as well so it was really nice and I’m delighted that she made her debut today and she got a goal as well.”


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