- Nikita Parris has scored in all of England’s France 2019 preliminaries
- Manchester City forward dreams of playing at the Women’s World Cup
- Parris: "My sister has been a massive influence on my career"
Having found the net four times in three FIFA Women’s World Cup™ qualifiers, Nikita Parris is certainly feeling confident in front of goal. The Manchester City forward is the only player to have scored in all of England’s France 2019 preliminaries, in which the Lionesses have been in lethal form.
High-scoring victories and sound clean sheets have defined England’s qualifying campaign so far, averaging five goals a game while their tight-knit defence has yet to concede. Still only 23 years of age, Parris is establishing herself as a key player in England’s ultra-competitive attack.
“I’m happy to be getting in positions where I can score,” Parris told FIFA.com. “We’ve been working the ball well in the final third, which has given the forwards plenty of opportunities to score.
“The campaign has been very positive so far. We want to score more but we still want to keep clean sheets. We’ve got to keep getting both sides of the game right.”
In their next fixture, against France on 1 March in the SheBelieves Cup, England will have a new manager in the dugout. A six-time English Premier League winner with Manchester United, Phil Neville was appointed Lionesses head coach in January 2018, and is taking his first steps in international management.
"Phil brings a lot of experience with his playing background – he knows what it takes to win and win consistently,” said Parris. "Going forward, we want to go from third to first in the world and in order to do that, we must adopt a winning mentality mind-set. I’m sure Phil will help facilitate that by pushing us at every moment."
Having the honour of representing her country is something that runs in the family for Parris. The Liverpudlian’s older sister, Natasha Jonas, became the first British female boxer at London 2012 to compete at the Olympics, reaching the quarter-finals in the lightweight division.
“She’s been a massive influence on my career,” Parris said of her sister. “Our sports are very different, so our diets differ a lot for instance, but we’re still able to give each other support and advice when it comes to sport, working hard and staying fit.
“I do a bit of boxing in the off-season to stay fit – it’s a different kind of fitness,” Parris continued. “It’s quite tough. I thought I’d be like a Muhammad Ali, float like a butterfly sting like a bee, but I was more like a Tony Bellew ‘Bomber’ trying to throw big digs!”
Jonas, currently an undefeated professional boxer, also serves as a reminder for Parris to savour her time playing the beautiful game. Before boxing, Jonas had aspirations of becoming a professional footballer, winning a scholarship to an American college, but was forced out of the game due to injury.
“She stresses the importance of working hard and making the most of every opportunity because you don’t know when your time is up which, as a player, you sometimes don’t think about."
World Cup dreams
One opportunity that Parris is determined to seize is playing at the Women’s World Cup. A veteran of the U-20 Women’s World Cup at Canada 2014, the Merseyside native watched in awe as the Lionesses made history in the same country a year later by winning bronze, their best performance at the tournament to date.
Now, having won her first senior cap in 2016 and gone on to feature at UEFA EURO 2017, Parris naturally has her sights set on one day playing at the global finals.
“Ever since I was kid, I dreamed of playing for England,” said Parris, who first fell in love with the game when kicking a ball with her father on the sidelines while watching her brothers in action. "Even in the youth set-up I was determined to get into the seniors, so now that I’m here, I don’t want to get complacent.
“Every time I step onto the pitch for England, I feel great pride. I want to keep working hard to stay in the starting XI and push on to win trophies. Playing at the Women’s World Cup is my long-term goal and, hopefully, I can contribute to winning a medal.”
As England aim to reach their fourth consecutive Women’s World Cup, their next preliminary is likely to be their toughest Group 1 test so far. Wales, undefeated after four qualifiers, lie in wait on the road to France 2019, making the anticipated all-British clash even more mouth-watering.
“I think it’ll be a terrific advert for the women’s game in Britain, to show how much we’ve pushed on,” said Parris. “But we can’t get involved in it being a Home Nations derby; we have to concentrate on getting the three points however that may come.”
‘Work hard and make the most of every opportunity’ is sisterly advice that Parris will be keeping with her as she chases her World Cup dream.