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Added 8th August 2013, 17:25 in

Mick Mulhern/ Manager /Sunderland WFC

MY IDEAL XIs: The Sunderland boss selects two teams of XI, based on the players he managed and the players they came up against...

I was recently chatting about my 14 years at the helm, at Sunderland, and the discussion turned to favourite players. I was asked for two ideal FA WOMEN’S PREMIER LEAGUE XIs both of ex-Sunderland players and of opponents who my teams had played against, since managing Sunderland and that set me thinking…


I could pick a modern XI easily, that would include the likes of Kim Little, Tash Dowie and Lianne Sanderson, along with the rising stars like Toni Duggan, Ellen White, Gemma Bonner and Jade Moore. However, I set out to think back to the early days and pick an 'old school' squad. So, here goes...

After a lot of thought (deciding between PAULINE COPE and Leanne Hall) my keeper would have to be Copey of Charlton (left). Apart from being a very good keeper she was also a real leader and her communication skills certainly helped those in front of her.


My full backs would be Arsenal's KIRSTY PEALLING (RB) (below) and former Fulham and Everton player RACHEL UNITT (LB). Both were very good defensively but just as important they could play in the opponents’ half. Rachel, in particular, has a great left foot.


I decided to go with FAYE WHITE (also below) as my captain and first centre half. Faye was a great defender, and like most of this team, she was a real winner. Faye was one of the first female players I'd seen who could ping a 60 yard pass with great accuracy and consistency.

Alongside her would be MARY PHILLIP, who I thought made a difficult job look very easy - another quality defender who could definitely play.


I decided on a midfield three with KATIE CHAPMAN being the rock of the side. Katie was a fantastic competitor and is the best header of the ball I've seen, in the women's game, over the years. Katie's game wasn't all about being a physical presence though, as she was also a brilliant player and therefore an essential pick in my team.

Playing alongside her would be KELLY SMITH. At her best Kelly was majestic and could do anything on a football pitch. The combination of goals and creativity are a vital ingredient in a successful side and I believe most managers would want Kelly in their team.


My final midfielder/loose forward is JUSTINE LORTON (right) of Charlton. Justine caused every opposing manager (and especially me) a major problem as she was a genius at finding space between the lines. Her movement would cause defenders untold problems and generally open up defences for others. That unselfish and very clever play caught my eye. It was Justine's influence that encouraged me to think about playing in a similar way and that helped me to develop a player into a similar style -I eventually found one, in Natalie Gutteridge. 


I decided on a front three who have a variety of skills that would upset and challenge any well-organised defence.

Firstly, I picked KAREN BURKE on the right. Burkey was a real lively winger who defenders couldn't easily read, as she was happy to go inside or outside. I always found her to be a constant threat and a great supply-line for others.


My other wide player would be RACHEL YANKEY. Yanks is the best wide player this country has ever produced - simple as that - and the perfect role model for any young player.


My centre forward is MARIEANNE SPACEY (below). At times she was unplayable and her finishing was deadly. Marianne could also drift into areas where defenders simply didn't want to venture, however her arrival into the box was precise and deadly.


My bench wouldn't be too shabby either, with the likes of  Leanne Hall, Angie Banks, Julie Fleeting, Becky Easton, Sian Williams, Jayne Ludlow and Sue Smith to call on. All were fantastic players in their own right and I could argue a case for each of them in my XI.


I feel privileged to have watched and played against all of these players, as an upcoming manager. It's fair to say that the way they played the game shaped how I wanted my team to play, and they were the types of player I wanted to develop, if possible. 






And that brings me onto an ex-SUNDERLAND XI. 

This proved very difficult, especially in certain positions where I had several good players. I was forced to move one or two players into positions they are familiar with, but didn't necessarily play there for us.


My keeper would be CARLY TELFORD. Carly had everything as far as I was concerned and hasn't done badly since she left. She has recently captained Chelsea, which didn't surprise me.

Sunderland line-up v Arsenal in 2003 - Back row: (far left) K Scorer; (4th from left) J O'Neill, Mel Reay, Jill Scott, Carly Telford, Steph Houghton. Front row: (2nd from left) D Lanaghan)

The full backs would be LUCY BRONZE and STEPH HOUGHTON. Both have had success in these positions, particularly Steph, who I think is an exceptional athlete who can play anywhere and really announced herself to world last summer as one of the two Olympians in my team. She certainly didn’t surprise me with her goals last summer as she started off in my side as a centre forward. Both were pivotal during two separate promotions. Steph scored a sack full of outstanding goals in 2005 and Lucy was a power house for us in 2009. Steph is currently Arsenal’s captain and Lucy is in the Liverpool side that is challenging at the top the WSL.

I've decided to play KAREN SCORER and JEN O’NEILL at centre half. Now I know Karen would laugh at this but she was my first captain and led us to our first promotion, so deserves to be in this team, as was Jen O' Neill who was excellent in that same season. Jen was also a very good talker and far better than she ever gave herself credit for.

The first player in my midfield three is LISA LANGRISH. Lisa was a major force in my first promoted team. She really should have played at the highest level but chose to study in America and had some bad injuries on her return to England. Lisa weighed in with a few crucial goals during the 1999-00 promotion.

The other midfield players would be JILL SCOTT, the second Olympian and JORDAN NOBBS. What can I say about these two? They are simply exceptional players who I believe will form a partnership in England's midfield in the not too distant future. Jill is the current Everton captain and I believe she is one of the best players in the world. I honestly think Nobbs could captain England one day too, she really is that good, in my opinion.

My forward line again has a variety of skills and abilities, with three players who could easily interchange. I've gone for LUCY STANIFORTH on the right, who certainly packs a punch if given space to unleash. Her delivery in wide areas is true quality, as is her dead ball delivery.

On the opposite side would be DEMI STOKES. She has fantastic balance and close control and Demi could be the next Rachel Yankey.

My third forward would be MEL REAY, who scored for fun in my first season, as we secured promotion. 

My bench would be full of real quality too with Donna Harris as my second keeper. She was brilliant during the 2000-01 season, before being signed by Arsenal Academy.

I'd also have Donna Lanaghan, Angela Willoughby, Denise Thomas, Aran Embleton, Rachel Lee and Sarah Danby on the bench. All were players of real quality during their time at Sunderland and three of them played for England at various levels.


I’d love to manage either of the above sides, as the ability on show would be amazing. I’ve seen several international teams and European games throughout the years and decided to restrict my 'best of XI to those I’d played against. Lyon were a great team to watch first hand when they played Arsenal, as were the USA, Sweden and the current French team at last year’s Olympics. I'd be  really excited to see Louisa Nécib,  ‎Gaëtane Thiney, ‎Sandrine Soubeyrand , Abby Wambach, Lotta Schelin, Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan in my team but that’s for another day.

I hope I'm still here after 20 years, to select another XI.  




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Neither are workable or likely at present but hypothetically, would you prefer a more strict salary cap in the FA WSL OR should centrally contracted England players (that receive salaries from The FA) be allocated more evenly around WSL1 clubs?

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