Kirk Backs James To Emulate Wales Icon

Willie Kirk has backed Angharad James to become Wales icon Jess Fishlock’s natural successor in the national team’s midfield.

The pair regularly line up alongside each other in Jayne Ludlow’s starting line-up and celebrated joint milestones in a 3-1 win over Northern Ireland back in April 2017, as James reached 50 caps and Fishlock made her 100th appearance.

The current Seattle Reign midfielder remains the only Wales player to reach that landmark, with Reading defender Chris Gunter the leading men’s cap holder on 93. 

At 24, Everton midfielder James – who has 71 caps already - is eight years Fishlock’s junior, and Kirk has backed her to become just as vital to the Welsh cause as she is to Everton’s.

“I knew how good a player Haz is from having worked with her at Bristol,” he said. “But she has matured a lot of over those years between then and now and is a real leader of the group at Everton.

“Obviously you have the likes of Elise Hughes looking up to her as a fellow Welsh international, but it is not just Elise. A lot of the players at Everton look up to her as well. 

“She added yet another Wales cap against Italy in the recent international break and it is easy to forget her age when you look at how many she has got. But Haz is still a young player in terms of the potential she has got to reach the very highest level. 

“She keeps building up her experience and every time she plays for Wales, she has the opportunity to play alongside Jess, which can only benefit her.

“I see Haz as the replacement for Jess in that Welsh team long-term. It’s just about helping her believe she can be that player.”

Ladies boss Kirk was also pleased to see fellow Toffees midfielder Inessa Kaagman make her senior bow for Holland in their friendly in South Africa.

Having had extensive experience playing for the Netherlands’ youth sides – she earned 17 caps at Under-19 level – Kaagman has been involved in the past couple of squads for the reigning European Champions.

And she played for the first time when starting in their 2-1 win over South Africa, with Everton teammate Siri Worm an unused substitute.

Kirk is hoping to see Kaagman at this summer’s World Cup, where she could be joined by another fellow Blue in Gabby George. The young centre back recently enjoyed a training camp in Qatar with England as Phil Neville’s side prepare for the tournament in France.

“Even though our players aren’t here at USM Finch Farm, we still try and keep an eye on them,” added Kirk.

“It is fantastic for Inessa. First and foremost, it looked a great experience for her to be in South Africa for a period of time and to do some of the activity they did around the game.

“Then for her to start the game is brilliant for her. I have watched it back and I thought she gave a good account of herself.

“It looked a great camp for Gabby, too. I spoke to her and she was buzzing after it. It is a fantastic group of players that Phil has got just now and I think they can have a real impact at the World Cup.

“For me, they have got to be looking at another last four finish at least. Hopefully Gabby can be part of that experience in France and I am sure the work that she has done across the camp in Qatar will have helped her hopefully cement her place in that squad.”

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