Anna Patten: ‘Introduction of an England WU23 team means a lot to all of us’
England defender and new Aston Villa signing Anna Patten discusses the return of an England women’s under-23 team and the impact of Sarina Wiegman and Mo Marley
The decision to reintroduce an England women’s under-23 team means a lot to the country’s talented young players, according to defender Anna Patten.
It was decided shortly after the arrival of senior team head coach Sarina Wiegman to reintroduce an under-23 team in an attempt to bridge the gap between youth football and the Lionesses.
Hugely experienced coach Mo Marley was asked to take the reins on a consultancy basis and so far the England WU23s have won 1-0 away in Belgium in October and enjoyed an 11-0 victory over Estonia at St. George’s Park in November.
Patten played the full 90 minutes in both fixtures and was captain for the emphatic victory over Estonia.
Speaking after the 11-0 win, the 22-year-old said: “Honestly it means a lot to all of us [to have that pathway]. Sometimes you don’t know where you stand because you are told they (the England coaching team) are always watching but you never know until you have opportunities like this where you are brought in.
“To work under Mo again, I think she is one of the best coaches there is to bridge that gap. Luckily for us she has been brought out of retirement [with the FA] to help bridge the gap again and she has a good relationship with the technical staff at the seniors, so she can really bring all that information to us so then if we are fortunate to ever get up to the seniors, then it wouldn’t all be brand new.”
Patten has found game time hard to come by at Arsenal this season, having been limited to just three starts and seven outings in total in the Barclays FA Women’s Super League and Champions League in the first half of this season.
So earlier this month it was decided the Harpenden-born defender would spend the rest of this season on loan at Aston Villa, where she has played the full 90 minutes in both games so far.
Speaking in November, Patten said: “It is excellent they have brought back the under-23 team. It is really good for us, just to be with the FA again and have their eyes on us, especially for the handful of us who are maybe not getting as many minutes at their clubs.
“It is a really good opportunity for us to come here, prove ourselves and it is obviously a great honour to wear the England shirt again.”
Patten has been a key member of several national age-group sides, making her England debut for the under-15s in 2014 before winning bronze medals at the UEFA U17 EUROs in 2016 and FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup in 2018.
The versatile player, who has impressed in midfield and right back as well as her favoured centre-back position in the past, joined Arsenal as a 12-year-old and made her Gunners’ debut in 2016 aged just 18.
She then spent four years in the USA playing for University of South Carolina and Florida State University while securing her degree before re-signing for the club in January last year.
Patten has made a total of 31 appearances and scored two goals for Arsenal but will spend the rest of this season on loan at Villa, where she will play alongside fellow new loan signing and 154-cap midfielder Jill Scott, and the host of exciting young talent at Carla Ward’s disposal.
Patten was captain against Estonia and speaking immediately after the game she said: “It is a great honour and it means a lot. My parents were watching on so it was so nice to wear the armband, sing the national anthem loud and proud, and I couldn’t ask for much more.”
England senior team head coach Wiegman took charge in September, having guided her home nation of Netherlands to the UEFA European Championships in 2017 and almost secured FIFA World Cup glory two years later.
As well as being one of the world’s leading coaches, Wiegman is also keen to develop the next generation of young players and was one of the main driver’s behind introducing an England WU23 team.
And Patten said: “On both camps Sarina has been in and around training. We obviously understand her main focus will be the seniors but she has spoken to us and explained what the under-23s creates in terms of that bridge.
“Even on our first day, the whole senior squad were just out there watching us, so Sarina is in and around and that is really positive for us to know the seniors are watching.”
She continued: “I feel like the under-23s was something Sarina really wanted to bring in so the fact that she has brought it in means she wants to close that gap and wants young girls to come up and show themselves so she can eventually progress us to the seniors.”
The England women’s senior team are playing three matches across the country next month as part of the inaugural Arnold Clark Cup.
England Women v Canada will take place at Riverside Stadium on Thursday 17 February, England Women v Spain on Sunday 20 February will be hosted by Norwich City’s Carrow Road and England Women v Germany will be at Wolves’ Molineux Stadium on Wednesday 23 February.
Tickets are available from £10 for adults and £5 for under-16s and can be purchased from here.