Quiet and unassuming off the pitch but bold and fearless on it, Lauren Hemp is being tipped for super-stardom at the Euros.
The 21-year-old is used to the hype and expectation, having won the Professional Footballers’ Association young player of the year award four times, first in 2018 aged 17 then in 2020, 2021 and 2022. Now, though, it is ramping up a level. Hemp has had a phenomenal season for club and country, scoring 20 times in 36 games for Manchester City, and will probably be critical to England’s hopes this month. The pressure could be too much for even the most experienced players, but it cannot match the pressure she places on herself.
“Obviously, it’s nice to be recognised as [integral], by the public or the media,” the winger says at St George’s Park, England’s training base, three years on from watching most of the 2019 Women’s World Cup from her sofa after she had travelled out to France to see the first game.
“For me, I’m my biggest critic. I put so much pressure on myself that I don’t really feel it from the outside. But I sometimes look back and realise how far I’ve come and that I’m still so young and think I should not put as much pressure on myself as I do. It’s finding that balance in making sure I do perform at my best but that I do enjoy the journey as well because I think when I enjoy it you get the best out of me.”
Fortunately, that chimes with the ethos Sarina Wiegman has looked to build in the England setup. “Since she’s come in you’ve seen a massive change in the style and the way we play,” says Hemp, who was also a talented cricketer. “But, for me, she’s always told me to have freedom, express myself, and I think that’s what I’ve needed. You’ve seen from the results that we are playing very well under Sarina. Hopefully that will continue into the Euros. She’s been on the winning side, so we’ve got so much trust and confidence in her. She’s telling us what we need to know to ensure that, come the Euros, we’re the best.”
Having a “good relationship with our psychologist” is important in the push to find the balance between putting pressure on yourself and staying driven. “I think it’s self-taught as well,” Hemp says. “It’s important to put yourself under pressure because that’s what the best players do and how they reach the top levels – and one day I’d like to be one of the best. I know the way to get there and that I’m far from it. But it is important to look back at how far you’ve come. I am doing that more often now and I think it’s important.”
What areas does she need to improve on? “One of the main things is my decision-making,” she says. “Whether cutting on the inside, going on the outside, shooting, crossing, things like that – driving at a player. When you get the ball and everyone comes towards you it’s all about that split-second decision and what you’re going to do on the ball. With the decision-making then comes becoming more consistent with goals and assists. That’ll show in my stats. But also, my right foot, at the moment I think I just use that to stand on, so that’s another one of the many things I’d like to improve.”
It is hard to imagine the player Hemp will be when she tightens up the gaps she sees in her game. She feels she needs experience, to practise at the end of training sessions and to “grab Ellen [White] and people like that who I link with on the pitch and have good connections with”. The connection with White, for club and country, is one she is enjoying.
“She makes me maybe look better than what I am at times,” says Hemp, with a smile. “She’s always finishing from any of my crosses so she’s a great player to have around. It’s not just the player on the pitch, it’s the person off it as well. Ellen’s a top, top player and someone that I’ve always looked up to. She’s a fantastic role model for anyone wanting to get involved in women’s football.
“She’s definitely vocal on the pitch, especially the top half of the pitch, which is what someone like me needs, and the person on the right, Beth [Mead] for instance. It’s great to have that leader, someone who is No 9 and the striker. She’s one of a number of leaders we’ve got in this team – and I’m not one of the most vocal myself so I need other people always telling me what to do and keeping the momentum going.”