There was a fleeting insight into Alex Morgan’s need for companionship on Sunday night, as she described a ‘lonely’ loan spell playing for Lyon because ‘I hadn’t met my husband yet’.
But the United States captain’s appearance ahead of Tuesday’s semi-final against England was otherwise about as anodyne as they come. Her sponsors will not be losing any sleep over it.
The women’s game in the United States is on such a commercial level that Morgan has more followers on Instagram than Virgil van Dijk, Tottenham Hotspur or Pele and roughly the same as the number signed up to the Royal Family’s official account.
Striker Alex Morgan will be hoping to fire the United States to the Women’s World Cup final
It is possible that the Americans’ superstardom has actually made them very arrogant
Making significant pronouncements doesn’t matter one iota when your image is currently plastered across billboards and TV ads the length and breadth of the US, advertising Coca-Cola, Nike and Secret deodorant.
Morgan and Megan Rapinoe’s performances have delivered them to the last four and helped the US women’s home jersey become the best-selling football shirt — men’s or women’s — ever sold on Nike.com in a single season.
Though Rapinoe brings a determination to use this spotlight to promote diversity and call out discrimination, the question is whether the side’s superstardom has actually made them a little too confident. The row which erupted over the Americans’ decision to scout the Fourviere Hotel where England are based as a possible place to stay ahead of the World Cup final, seemed to illustrate the point on Sunday night.
England manager Phil Neville’s response was temperate and dignified, though it did not take great powers of deduction to conclude that he is pretty indignant.
Neville used his press conference to pay tribute to the way Rapinoe has used the spotlight to call out the misogyny of Donald Trump, by declaring ahead of the semi-final that she would ‘not go to the f****** White House’ if the players lift the trophy on Sunday.
Megan Rapinoe has been the standout performer for the Americans in France so far
Rapinoe has recently been involved in an angry exchange with President Trump on Twitter
The President gave her a fair bit back on Twitter last week, creating an entire new strand of political opportunism which Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, rising star of the US Democratic Party, grabbed by inviting the players to visit the House of Representatives. ‘It’s as if we were done and have won it,’ Rapinoe said when asked about Ocasio-Cortez’s offer. Precisely.
Neville clearly likes Rapinoe’s rabid competitive instinct. He recalled a collision with her when England drew 2-2 against the US in the SheBelieves Cup in March. ‘Her studs came right through my Apple watch,’ he said. ‘What I liked was she didn’t say sorry. She’s a real competitor.’
But you imagine the England manager would have been less than delighted to hear a player of his own say — as US defender Ali Krieger did last week — that ‘we have the best team in the world, and the second best’ in reference to their reserves.
England captain Steph Houghton spoke yet again on Sunday about the importance of humility to England. It is a very hard commodity to locate in the US team who are seeking to win an unprecedented fourth World Cup here.
United States manager Jill Ellis insisted that her team is not arrogant on Sunday morning
Defender Ali Krieger claimed the US have the best team and second best team on the planet
The team’s manager, Jill Ellis, rejected any notion that her side were arrogant, though she certainly does convey more modesty.
The 52-year-old was born in Portsmouth and is an understated foil to the superstar personas of many of the players around her.
Though Ellis moved to the United States with family as a 15-year-old, the British accent remains. She reflected here on reading the Daily Mail at home, supporting Manchester United and once meeting Neville’s original guru, Sir Alex Ferguson at the FIFA Ballon d’Or awards.
‘I bumped into him in a hallway and he was super gracious,’ Ellis said. ‘I can’t speak highly enough about how he was as a manager. He got the best out of his players and was ruthless at times. Being around Sir Alex on an internal level as Phil was I am sure (it will have had an effect). Everyone affects us and influences us and you take a little bit of that away.’
The US did not gain a lot of admirers following their unnecessary celebrations against Thailand
Phil Neville’s Lionesses will need to be at their very best to beat the Americans and progress
Neville insisted that the statements that nurtured his respect for Rapinoe would not be for him — ‘I don’t know anything about politics’ — and it was hard not to feel that he was correct to assert that the French will be behind his team, rather than the Americans.
The US have had something of an image problem ever since they effusively celebrated all of the 13 goals they put past Thailand in their opening match.
Winning is not a popularity contest, of course. Neville knows that well enough from his days with Ferguson. England will need to be at the very height of their powers but Neville has inculcated an extraordinary spirit in a team he has reminded are here to win.
It is not inconceivable that complacency and hubris prove fateful for Ellis’ team of all-conquering multi-millionaires.