Six months ago Grace Clinton was scoring in the Women’s Championship to help secure Bristol City’s promotion to the top flight – now she is preparing to face Belgium as part of England’s senior squad.
The 20-year-old midfielder continues to make rapid progress and has gone from strength to strength since her loan spell in the second tier.
Clinton, a product of Everton’s academy, was signed by Manchester United in 2022 and now, having also impressed on loan at Tottenham in the Women’s Super League, has caught the eye of Lionesses boss Sarina Wiegman.
“She will be the next superstar in this country if you ask me,” said Spurs boss Robert Vilahamn. “I think she’s brilliant and has the potential to be so good.”
After receiving her first call-up to the England squad for their Women’s Nations League matches against Belgium this month, BBC Sport looks back at Clinton’s development and what could lie in store for her future.
‘She was a little bit frustrating’
Ever since her days at Everton, Clinton has been tipped to become a star.
The midfielder stepped up to the first-team squad under former Toffees boss Willie Kirk aged just 16 during the 2020-21 pre-season campaign.
She was an unused substitute in their FA Cup final defeat by Manchester City later that season and earned her first start in a Merseyside derby as Everton beat Liverpool in the Women’s League Cup.
Kirk, who also worked with England winger Lauren Hemp and Scotland midfielder Caroline Weir during their development, knew there was room for improvement for Clinton.
“She was a great kid first of all but she was a little bit frustrating because she was a little bit lazy out of possession,” he said.
“I remember, it was in my last game at Everton, and she scored a fantastic goal against Manchester City.
“It was a top, top goal and everyone was talking about it saying ‘that’s why she should be playing more’.
“But everyone forgot she didn’t track back for Weir’s goal which put us 1-0 down. She was righting her wrongs! Her move to Manchester United now has helped her understand what work at the highest level means and needs to look like.”
Kirk signed experienced England midfielder Jill Scott on loan in 2021 and hoped she would “leave a lasting impression” on Clinton.
“Jill was always the first on the pitch and last off it. I hoped Grace saw that,” said Kirk. “Grace was only 18 and was maybe keen to get away sometimes.
“I’m sure she has taken all of those learnings because she is an intelligent kid and Sarina [Wiegman] will have seen her qualities.
“She can carry the ball, she has fantastic balance, can make things happen and she sees things a lot of players don’t. It’s great to see her called up.”
‘Bristol City was great stepping stone for her’
Manchester United manager Marc Skinner wanted Clinton to remain with the first team for six months last season before assessing the best route for her development.
It was eventually agreed to send her out on loan to Bristol City in the Women’s Championship where she would gain regular game time.
Clinton’s quality ensured she was a success at Bristol City and played a big role in their promotion back to the top flight – netting six goals in 12 league appearances for the club.
With competition for places remaining high at United on her return, Tottenham saw an opportunity to bring Clinton in for another loan spell this season – and it has already paid off.
“I think she’s been excellent. We played Tottenham in a pre-season friendly and she was excellent in that game too,” said United boss Skinner.
“Sometimes you just need that opportunity. We always give players six months when they come into Manchester United to learn how we want them to play and what we want them to do.
“She went out to Bristol City and that was a good stepping stone in terms of her growth to play often. This season Tottenham came in and it is an adaptation to her position as well which helps.
“I’m really proud of her. The reason we use the loan system is so that younger players can show their qualities to hopefully come back and perform for Manchester United.
“With the right players around her she will show her qualities for years to come.”
‘She will be a number 10 for England’
Clinton’s impact at Tottenham has been instant.
After two assured performances starting on the left wing in their opening WSL games, Clinton then scored a stunning long-range goal in a 3-1 win at Brighton.
She followed that up with an assist in a 4-2 win over Aston Villa playing in central midfield on Saturday. In the only match she has not started for Spurs – a 6-0 win over Reading in the Women’s League Cup – she got an assist after coming off the bench.
But having shown her capability in numerous positions, where does her future with England lie?
“She’s a number 10, absolutely. In the future, she’s going to start as a 10 in the national team, I’m quite sure of that,” said Tottenham boss Vilahamn.
“Sometimes when you’re young and you want to be on the ball a lot, and you don’t want to lose it in the risky moments, taking a step out to the left like she’s doing now is a good thing.
“She can go into the space with the ball, instead of starting in the space, basically. Then she’s also finding her way into those pockets and taking a shot.
“For me she will be a 10, but right now, she’s doing a good job as a left winger, so she will probably end up in both positions.”
- The wonders and fragility of our amazing Earth: Brand-new Planet Earth III, narrated by Sir David Attenborough
- Essential listening from George the Poet: This award-winning podcast offers a fresh take on inner city life through storytelling, music and fiction