Vyan Sampson tells FIFA+ that the Reggae Girlz “don’t fear anyone” ahead of facing the might of France and Brazil at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 22: Cortnee Vine of Australia competes with Vyan Sampson of Jamaica during the Cup of Nations match between the Australia Matildas and Jamaica at McDonald Jones Stadium on February 22, 2023 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
  • Vyan Sampson is preparing for her first FIFA Women’s World Cup with Jamaica

  • The former England youth star tells FIFA+ she is loving life with the Reggae Girlz

  • Sampson says that Khadija Shaw, the team’s star skipper, can help the team shock Brazil and France

Her career history, and her accent, would suggest that Vyan Sampson is a Londoner through and through.

Born and raised in the English capital, the 26-year-old has spent the bulk of her career with four of the city’s clubs: Arsenal, West Ham United, London City Lionesses and Charlton Athletic. And while a FIFA Women’s World Cup looked likely from an early stage, there seemed little doubt – initially at least – that it would come in the all-white of the Lionesses.

But although Sampson represented England at U-17 and U-19 level, it is in the yellow and green of Jamaica that she looks set to grace the global stage. And despite that extensive English history, playing for the Reggae Girlz has, she says, felt like coming home.

“Although I was born in the UK, I very much grew up in a Caribbean household. A lot of the girls are in a similar situation,” said Sampson, referring to a Jamaica squad dominated by players born in England and the United States.

“Because of those strong connections, it has been very natural for us. We slotted right in to the group and never felt weird at all. In fact, having played for England youth age groups, I can say that I felt much more at home coming into the Jamaica dressing room. It finally felt like I belonged.”

The switching of allegiances from a superpower of the game to one of its lesser lights is generally perceived to be a decision of the head, rather than of the heart. And it’s true that the pursuit of international football and major-tournament involvement has occasionally required the sourcing of a far-distant relative or two.

Not in Sampson’s case, however.

“In my family, everyone was born in Jamaica bar me and my sister!” she said, laughing. “Because of that, and the way I’ve been brought up, I really feel a strong Jamaican identity.

“I try not to think too much of what it would be like to line up for Jamaica at a World Cup, hearing the national anthem, just in case it doesn’t happen. But my mum really struggles with that. She’s so excited and wants to talk about it all the time!

“It’s just such a big deal for my family. Even when I come back from a camp, and am able bring a shirt home, there’s so much pride from them that I’m out there representing this country. Saying yes to Jamaica was an absolute no-brainer for me and it’s something that I have gone into with my heart and soul.”

Momentum and midfield responsibilities

Sampson’s burgeoning career stalled during her days as an England youth player when she was diagnosed with a genetic knee condition that needed surgery at the time, and has required careful management ever since.

Now, having switched from one British capital city to the other – joining Edinburgh outfit Hearts – there is a feeling of lost momentum being regained.

“Is this the most settled I’ve been? For sure. Happiest? Most definitely,” she told FIFA+. “I just needed to play under coaches and be surrounded by members of staff that believe in me and understand where I’m coming from because the issue I have is not a typical, textbook kind of injury.

“This is probably the first time in my career that both club and country have matched up so well and taken care of me rather than just seeing me as a commodity. I feel fully supported and trusted, and hopefully I’m repaying some of that trust.”

Sampson has certainly established herself as a key player for both Hearts and Jamaica, with the latter tending to utilise her as a central midfielder rather than in her more accustomed defensive role. “I’m actually loving that,” she enthused. “I pride myself on my versatility, and I’m happy to play wherever needed, but in midfield you’re involved all the time, always in the thick of things, and that’s something I really, really enjoy.”

Seeking shocks with a superstar

Helping the Reggae Girlz wrest control of the engine room will, she knows, be anything but straightforward at a Women’s World Cup in which they face France, Brazil and Panama in a star-stacked section. But while her team’s recent results – including 3-0 defeats to Australia and Spain at February’s Cup of Nations – might suggest they have little chance of upsetting Group F’s expected order, Sampson insists otherwise.

“Can we cause a shock or two? One hundred per cent,” she said defiantly. “I’ve been in the set-up for about four years now and this is probably the best group of players we’ve had. I know the results might not reflect that but we’ve definitely been making progress.

“We’re a strong and powerful team and we have speed in all areas of the pitch. That’s something that I think a lot of nations will be aware of when it comes to us. But we’ve also, with the help of our new coach (Lorne Donaldson, who took charge last year) and technical staff, really buckled down and become a much more organised team too. Now we want to show the world what we’re really about.

“We’re a small nation, but we don’t fear anyone. We have our qualities, and these big teams we’ll be facing will need to do their research on us just as much as we will on them. They’ll do themselves a great disservice if they don’t take us seriously because we definitely have some strengths that we’re going to be bringing to the table.”

The best-known weapon in Jamaica’s arsenal is, of course, their captain and all-time leading scorer. Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw has been in electrifying form this season, outscoring the likes of Sam Kerr and Rachel Daly to top the WSL scoring chart and enhancing her reputation as one of the game’s most potent and prolific attackers.

“For me, she’s as good as anyone out there,” Sampson said of her star skipper. “I honestly think her name should be in the conversation for the world’s best. The fact we have her in our locker is another massive part of what makes us believe that we can do something at this World Cup.

“There’s no doubt we are capable. We just need to make sure that everything comes together when it matters most.”

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