‘My dreams came true’: England star Ellen White bows out at the top

Given that Ellen White has spent so many years perfecting the art of being in the right place at the right time, it perhaps should not come as a total surprise that England women’s record goalscorer is retiring from football at the zenith of her career.

Three weeks after helping Sarina Wiegman’s Lionesses win Euro 2022 by beating Germany at Wembley the 33-year-old has gone out on the high she strove so hard, for so long, to achieve. After scoring 52 goals for England in 113 senior matches White can be left harbouring few, if any, regrets about a CV which includes appearances at three World Cups and three European Championships, in addition to representing Great Britain at two Olympics.

When England reached the semi-finals of the 2019 World Cup in France, White was the tournament’s joint top scorer with six goals. This summer she started all six Euro 2022 games as the Lionesses won their first major trophy, scoring twice.

Last November a forward who blended exceptional movement and positional sense with stellar link and hold-up play exceeded Kelly Smith’s previous Lionesses’ record of 46 goals during England’s record20-0 World Cup qualifying win against Latvia. Only Wayne Rooney, with 53, has scored more frequently in an England shirt.

White bows out with a year remaining on her contract with Manchester City where she will be much missed. The same goes for Wiegman and England, whose preparations for next summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand are bound to feel slightly strange without the presence of the Lionesses’ “third captain”.

Centre-forwards rarely wear the armband but England’s manager identified White’s leadership qualities as so strong that she asked her to assume the captaincy on those occasions when the captain, Leah Williamson, and her deputy, Millie Bright, were unavailable.

“Ellen’s given so much for England, we are all so proud of her,” Wiegman said on Monday. “I have only had the pleasure of working with her for this past year but her professionalism, work rate and finishing ability is world class. We will miss her but I fully understand her decision to take a new direction.

“This summer she did an amazing job for the team. She’s the perfect team player and helped the younger players find their way in international football. I already knew she was a great player but I found an even better person.”

With customary elegance White handed the baton to, among others, the young England forward Alessia Russo. “This had been one of the hardest decisions of my life but one I know is right for me,” said White.

“This decision has always been one I’ve wanted to make on my terms. And this is my time to say goodbye to football and watch the next generation shine. It has been my greatest honour and privilege to play this game. My dreams came true on 31 July, becoming a European champion.”

Ever courteous, the former Chelsea, Leeds, Arsenal, Notts County and Birmingham forward signed off with a typically classy and assured touch, saying: “Let’s use the momentum from the Euros win to make sure that every young person in all communities has the opportunity to play and feel connected to all England football teams.” Those words were invested with added heft by White’s status as an individual who has long pushed for improved standards and opportunities across the domestic game.

England fans will miss the sight of her hallmark goal celebration, namely the famous “goggles” pose she copied from her hero Anthony Modeste. Intended, originally, as a tribute to the French striker, it reflects the mutual love of Bundesliga football shared by White and her husband, Callum Convery, a football development officer at Nottinghamshire FA.

The couple met as sports science students at Loughborough University, later falling for Modeste during one of their frequent trips to Germany. They also take a keen interest in Oldham Athletic women’s team, where they are kit sponsors, and West Ham, the club White supported as a child growing up in Buckinghamshire.

“Ellen White will long be remembered as a model for others to follow,” said Lady Sue Campbell, the FA’s director of women’s football. “It is not just about her record-breaking 52 goals and performances but about the standards she set and the way she conducts herself. A true leader of women, it has never been about Ellen White for her – it was always the team first. She is a legend of the modern game.”

Few internationals can look back on participation in six major tournaments but it was not always plain sailing for a striker who lost two years of her career to serious knee injuries. Those moments of adversity perhaps explain the unbridled joy with which a wonderfully uninhibited White – someone who had previously avoided the limelight – could be seen dancing in front of the television cameras after every England game this summer.

“Ellen’s always had this great desire to be the best but she’s humble with it,” said the Brighton manager, Hope Powell, who as England coach gave White her debut in 2010. “That humility is Ellen’s key quality.”

Steph Houghton, the former England captain and White’s best friend, expressed similar sentiments. “If you look back at all the big games for club and country, when we needed Ellen, she stepped up and scored the big goals,” she said. “Any challenge thrown at her, Ellen always comes out on top.”