Russo 'loving every minute' as England number nine

Russo ‘loving every minute’ as England number nine

The boots Alessia Russo was wearing when she scored her famous backheel are now on display in the Tower of London

In June, Alessia Russo had just seven England caps – now she is a European champion, the country’s main number nine and a household name.

It has been a whirlwind couple of years for the 23-year-old since she stepped up to the England senior squad in 2020.

And, of course, people are still talking to her about that goal.

“I still get it now. I’m not sure I’ll ever score a goal like that again,” Russo told BBC Sport.

“Jaw-dropping” and “outrageous” were just some of the words used to describe her memorable backheel in the Euro 2022 semi-final against Sweden, which was voted the best goal of the tournament by Uefa.external-link

“It was great I got to do it on that kind of stage. It was special and people are still talking about it, which is nice,” she said.

That moment, along with England’s success in the final against Germany at Wembley, catapulted Russo on to the back pages and into football folklore.

One of the more unlikely accolades she has received as a result was seeing her football boots displayed in the Tower of London, alongside the crown jewels, as a national treasure.

She called that “the coolest thing” to have happened off the back of the Euros success. “I would never have expected that. I couldn’t believe it when I heard about it,” said Russo.

“It was crazy. My family were buzzing. We were all a bit taken aback. To go there and meet the beefeaters and hand the boots over was really cool.

“Things have definitely changed. The growth of the game in the past few months has been incredible. We want it to keep going now.

“If that means we get recognised more – as long as the women’s game keeps growing – then that’s part of the job.”

Alessia Russo scores a backheel against Sweden
Alessia Russo’s backheel was one of four goals she scored at Euro 2022, putting her third in the tournament’s scoring charts

‘I’m loving every minute’

The Manchester United striker acted as “super sub” throughout the Euros as back-up to Lionesses’ record scorer Ellen White, who announced her retirement in August.

With the path now clear in front of her, Russo has started England’s past two matches and she will likely lead the line again for Friday’s friendly with world champions the United States – although she’s not taking her position for granted.

“I still think I have lots to do and lots to prove but it’s great,” she said. “I love every minute in an England shirt.

“To be able to have an impact in as many ways as possible is my job. I love playing with the world-class forwards and other players we have in the squad.

“Ellen White was a huge role model for me. I used to try and learn as much as I could from her. I’m glad I got to share the pitch with her.”

Coming up against the USA is a test Russo is relishing, having spent two years playing football there in North Carolina before joining United in 2020.

“I played with girls a few years older than me so I realised I had to get quicker, fitter, faster and stronger quickly to compete with them,” she said.

“In England we have more of a focus on the technical and tactical side of the game. When I went out there it was more physical and about strength and power.

“That opened my eyes a little. This is the place [with United in the Women’s Super League] I see myself developing in right now but I loved my time out in the United States. I got an experience like no other.”

Russo’s contact with United runs until the summer of 2023, though it is understood she turned down a new deal in June.

North Carolina's Alessia Russo (ENG) (19) and Princeton's Mikaela Symanovich in 2017
Alessia Russo (right) played for North Carolina in the United States – the same team her England manager Sarina Wiegman appeared for as a young player

Friday’s meeting with the USA comes 10 months out from the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand next year.

England’s unbeaten record under Sarina Wiegman could be under threat against a side they have only beaten once in their past six meetings – but Russo believes playing the USA is perfect preparation.

“We always want to test ourselves against the best teams in the world and the USA are definitely one of them,” she said.

“I don’t think we would fear anyone that we play. We know how good these teams are but we love playing these games, it’s what we want.

“I hope we are catching up with the USA. They have been powerhouses for years. I think the European game is really catching up and I can’t wait to test it.”

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