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Interviews

Leandra Little speaks

5 September 2020

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Leandra Little says it is a 'massive honour' to be named captain of Sheffield United Women for the upcoming FA Women's Championship campaign.

The Blades kick off their new season at London City Lionesses on Sunday in Neil Redfearn's first game in charge, and the experienced Little will lead the team out in the same role she had as a player in Redfearn's title-winning Doncaster Rovers Belles side.

"I'm always privileged to pull on an armband and lead a team out and this is no different," said the new captain. "It's just about wanting to be the best I can in terms of supporting everyone both on and off the pitch and that will be my intention when it comes to the captaincy this season.

"There's a lot of experienced players within our team already and it will be about utilising their insights and working collaboratively as a team and to support the younger players coming through the squad. I hope I do the role proud."

Little is the most experienced player in the Blades squad but has plenty experience elsewhere to lean on in the shape of former Belles team mates Kasia Lipka and Jade Pennock, as well as vice-captain Katie Wilkinson.

With plenty of young players in the squad to complement the experienced heads within the dressing room, Little says she knows others will stand up and be counted, even if it's her wearing the armband.

"With a really strong squad, you'll have that. It won't be that everyone just looks to me, it will be a collaborative approach and there's a great deal of experience within our dressing room. Leadership doesn't have to be one person, having different people with different strengths and different ways they lead really helps. I'll wear the armband, but I'll be using others around me and I'll be expecting them to do what they do week in, week out in terms of supporting the players around them.

"The younger players coming through have leadership qualities too. I've worked with Lucy [Watson] and Keri [Matthews] when they've been away with England with my FA role and I know they have a lot to offer. It's about me bringing them out of their shell in a more senior environment and I'm looking forward to that."

The likes of Matthews, who was a regular in the first team squad last season, as well as January arrival Watson and Charley Docherty, who has stepped up from the development squad this season, could all feature against London City on Sunday, and Little's advice for the trio couldn't be simpler.

"My advice to the younger players and the players coming in is to have no fear. Respect the opponent but know also that they are good individuals and they wouldn't be here and on the teamsheet if they weren't talented. They have to adapt to senior football but play with no fear."

The centre-back also reserved praise for her vice-captain Wilkinson, who maintains the role from last season.

The striker's debut season at the club saw her walk away with the league's golden boot and she was named player of the season for her efforts in helping the Blades up to second in the table by the time the season ended prematurely.

"Wilko is very passionate, you see that on the pitch every single time she plays. She wants us to play with those high standards on the pitch. We complement each other well I think, we laugh about it sometimes that we're good cop, bad cop, but we do work well together and being in different areas of the pitch, we can ensure messages get to other players on the pitch in different positions.

"She had a superb season last year and we're hoping for the same again. She's a fantastic person to have around, she's a really bubbly personality and that's infectious. Hopefully we'll do a great job at supporting and leading the team this season."

Head coach Redfearn said it was an "easy" decision to make Little captain after arriving at the club last week, having worked with her at Belles and briefly at Liverpool, where he signed her after moving to the club after leading Belles to the FA WSL 2 title in 2018.

Little is as well placed as anyone to know what Redfearn will bring to the team this season and is positive about the team's chances ahead of the new campaign.

"There's two different aspects to Neil's managerial ways which I really like. On the pitch, he'll be very organised, we'll all know our individual roles but we'll know collectively what our plan is and what we're trying to achieve.

"Off the pitch, he's massive on developing players as people as well. He genuinely cares about you and your life away from football. He's a motivator, he demands high quality and a real intensity, he wants to be at it all the time and that's great because if you train with those standards, you take that into a game. I'm personally really looking forward to working with him again and I know the girls who haven't worked with him have been really impressed so far."

London City away proposes a tough start to life in charge for Redfearn after the side finished fourth in their first season in the FA Women's Championship last season.

Little was part of the side which came away with three points in a hard-fought 2-1 win, and she's expecting every single game to be tough in what is an ever-increasingly competitive league.

"With the Championship, every game is a tough game. There's no guarantees and that's what I love about this league. Every single game will be like that and as a squad we'll have to be at the top of our game in every single game in order to take as many points as possible.

"For me, it's about being disciplined and being organised and with Neil, you can tell straight away from the sessions we've had he's big on that, giving that real clarity of what's expected of you and your roles and responsibilities."


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