How Alessia Russo would 'run rings' around her teenage cousin at 10

EXCLUSIVE How a 10-year-old Alessia Russo would ‘run rings’ around her teenage cousin and ‘all the other boys’ in her family on their trips to Italy – before rising to become Lionesses’ golden girl

  • Alessia is tipped to be the first £1m-a-year WSL player after her quarter final goal 

Alessia Russo’s cousin has recalled the star as a youngster ‘who ran rings around’ him in beach football as a teenager – as the Lionesses’ golden girl gets set to fire England to the final.

Alessia, 24, tipped as the first £1million-a-year Women’s Super League player after her winning goal against Colombia sent England into the semi-final, is backed by a small army of family and friends in Australia.

And her cousin Neill Andrew, 29, told MailOnline that everyone back home as well is rooting for her and the team in the showdown against Australia on Wednesday.

‘We’ve all passed on our best wishes for Lessi and the Lionesses,’ said kitchen firm boss Neill. ‘We’re a close-knit family, though maybe not as close as we used to be, now everyone has grown up.’

But Neill said some of his favourite memories from combined family holidays to Italy involved him and his siblings and Alessia and her two elder brothers, Luca, 29, and Giorgio, 28 playing football. 

Alessia Russo has Italian roots which could’ve seen her represent the Azzurri. She is pictured (centre) with her big brothers, Luca and Giorgio in the blue kit of Italy 

Alessia, 24, tipped as the first £1million-a-year Women’s Super League player after her winning goal against Colombia sent England into the semi-final

But her proud cousin Neill Andrew, 29, (pictured) said she was always destined to be a sporting great – saying she would ‘run rings around’ him when they played football as children 

‘We’d all go to ‘Nonna’s’ [grandmother] house in Italy and play on the beach at Nettuno,’ recalled Neill, ‘I was 14 or so and Lessi was a girl of 10, but she would run rings around me and all the other boys – you could see even then how good she was.’

READ MORE: Australia’s Sam Kerr and England’s Alessia Russo are joint-favourites to score in their World Cup semi-final – with the Lionesses’ Lauren Hemp and Bethany England also fancied to net

Neill, from Colchester, Essex, said his father Bob, 64 – Alessia’s uncle – is out in Australia with his second wife Eleanor. ‘They’re cheering her on and hoping to see her lift the World Cup at the end of it,’ said Neill.

Bob was previously married to Alessia’s paternal aunt Teresa, who died in 1989 before Alessia was born.

Alessia first claimed international attention last year when she scored a brilliant back-heel goal for England in the Euros semi-final against Sweden, which was named the Goal of the Tournament.

Now, a month after being transferred to Arsenal from Manchester United, she’s giving the Lionesses something to roar about – as well as celebrity fans such as David Beckham and his daughter Harper.

According to industry analysts, with her commercial deals with brands including Adidas, Gucci, PlayStation and Beats by Dre, she is believed to be the first WSL player to have broken through the £1million-a-year earnings barrier.

Her boots have even been displayed in the Tower of London.

Alessia first claimed international attention last year when she scored a brilliant back-heel goal for England in the Euros semi-final against Sweden, which was named the Goal of the Tournament (pictured) 

With her back to goal and surrounded by defenders, Russo improvised to terrific effect, using a back heel to score

Russo couldn’t quite believe the shot had found the net and described the goal as ‘fortunate’

The Kent-born striker’s rise to the top was on the cards from a young age. Coming from Italian stock, she grew up in Maidstone in a sporting family -policeman dad Mario played for Met Police FC and coached local children, while brother Giorgio played for non-league team Ramsgate and Luca – now Alessia’s agent – represented England in under-20s track and field events.

READ MORE: So are you a Lioness lover or a Matilda maniac? The ‘half Brits, half Aussies’ whose loyalties are torn over who to back at the World Cup semi-finals

Mother Carol recently recalled Alessia as a ‘cute three-year-old dancing in a tutu’ but added that she had been desperate to ditch ballet because she wanted to go to football training with her dad and brothers.

Coach Mario revealed he had got ‘strange looks’ from other parents when he moved his daughter from the girls’ to the boys’ team after spotting her potential.

At St Simon Stock Roman Catholic School in Maidstone, Alessia’s star quality was obvious, and former head John Malone and PE teacher Claire Brown recall she was a ‘driven’ pupil who ‘already had the mindset of a great sporting star’.

John told Good Morning Britain: ‘She played for the girls’ team but also, up to a certain age, girls can play for the boys’ team.

‘Her reputation was out there in the community. So PE departments from other schools would be calling us on the match day to say, ‘Is that girl playing for you this evening?’.

‘If the answer was yes, they knew that they were going to lose.’

From the age of eight, Alessia trained at Charlton Athletic’s academy, where in 2006 she was led on to the pitch as a mascot by Casey Stoney, who would later become her boss at Manchester United.

After playing for Bearsted Girls under 10’s as a child, Russo began her career at Charlton Athletic’s centre of excellence before joining Chelsea’s development squad

Russo posted a picture alongside her mother, father and brother on social media and captioned the image: ‘Another special week’

Alessia Russo has made a name for herself as part of the Lionesses side, taking part in their 2022 winning European Championship campaign 

Colin Whitfield, a former coach at Bearsted FC in Kent, where she began her footie career, recently told The Sun she is inspiring a new generation of Lion Cubs.

READ MORE: And so the World Cup sledging begins! Aussie cricketer David Warner leads jibes at Lionesses ahead of England’s semi-final playoff against the Matildas – as the country’s press relish in the idea of ‘triple heartache for the Poms’

He said: ‘The girls in particular all want to be the next Alessia Russo. She has inspired lots of people, not just at Bearsted.

‘There’s a real sense of excitement off the back of her success. I can’t see it ever disappearing.’

Offered a contract by Chelsea just as she was considering university, Alessia opted to take a soccer scholarship at the University of North Carolina, where her brother Luca was already studying on an athletic scholarship.

Her first-year roommate was fellow England player Lotte Wubben-Moy.

Her university coach Anson Dorrance – who also trained Lioness Lucy Bronze – told a newspaper: ‘Players usually slow down in shooting practice to achieve more accuracy.

‘But Alesssia never did that, she always played the game. She always went 100mph to try and score a goal, even in an exercise. Russo trained ruthlessly to become the player she is and she’s going to keep getting better.

‘So even to this day I use examples of my great players, Alessia certainly being one of them, to help my current players become elite.’

Fans have since referred to the rising sports star as ‘Lessi’, likening her to Argentina football star Lionel Messi – often regarded the best player in the world

She was a star of the England youth teams, once scoring five goals in a match against Croatia aged 17, and was inevitably called up to the senior squad in February 2020 (she is pictured during the World Cup in Australia in 2023)

She was a star of the England youth teams, once scoring five goals in a match against Croatia aged 17, and was inevitably called up to the senior squad in February 2020.

On her return from the States, the life-long Manchester United supporter was snapped up by the Red Devils.

Last month, when she left after three years to join Arsenal, she reflected on how it had always been her dream to play at Old Trafford.

She said: ‘If I ever picture myself as a little girl, I’m wearing a United shirt with a ball glued to my feet. If someone told that little girl she’d represent the club one day, create so many memories and score at Old Trafford, I can’t imagine how she’d contain the excitement.’

Alessia has also revealed her health struggles, telling Women’s Health magazine: ‘In lockdown, it was tough. I was training on my own, I was home and I lost quite a bit of weight.

‘Then I signed for Man United soon after lockdown and within about six weeks, I completely tore my hamstring, which I could only relate back to losing a lot of weight because I’ve never had a muscle injury before.

‘[My diet] was high in protein but I was sacrificing all the carbs and the fats. I used to track everything.

In November 2021, Russo suffered a calf injury and posted an image to her Instagram telling fans: ‘Tough times don’t last. Road to recovery has begun’

Russo is back to striking form, scoring England’s second goal in their quarter final match against Colombia (pictured)

Alessia Russo and Lotte Wubben-Moy of England look on as players of England travel to Sydney on Tuesday ahead of Wednesday’s semi-final match 

‘I was at a low point with my food and with my weight. I wasn’t strong enough. I wasn’t robust. I thought I looked great but really, on the football pitch, I wasn’t strong enough to compete.’

Alessia went on to become United’s top scorer, earning an estimated £35,000 to £45,000 a year, rising to more than £60,000 in her third year, as well as bonuses for goals and winning matches, placing her among the WSL’s highest earners.

The income was boosted by her call-up to the Lionesses, with each player paid £2,000 per game for an average of 11 a year.

Winning the 2022 European Championship brought the elite players into a whole new ball park for earnings, with each of the Lionesses receiving a £50,000 bonus.

They were also paid £430 a day to take part, for a total of 37 days, meaning a pay cheque of £15,910. Along with the Arnold Clark Cup and the Finalissima tournament, each player banked around £88,000, claims sport website The Athletic.

With the Euros still a recent memory, Alessia was already hot property when she joined Arsenal, who eventually signed her on a free transfer after being knocked back with a world-record bid, believed to be around £500,000, in January.

With nearly 600,000 followers on Instagram, she can expect to cash in on her fame with commercial deals worth six figures.

Russo is hoping to help the Lionesses reach the finals of the Women’s World Cup. She is pictured training on Tuesday at the Central Coast Stadium 

Russo is now one of the bookies’ favourites to score in the match between England and Australia on Wednesday 

This month, boot sponsor Adidas selected her as one of five players to promote its Champion The Girls initiative, aimed at preventing teenage girls from dropping out of sport, and she appeared alongside David Beckham in a campaign for the brand as well as modelling its Gucci collaboration range.

After her spectacular Euros goal against Sweden, Adidas displayed her green boots among the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London, declaring her a ‘national treasure’.

Her advertising earnings are thought to be between £300,000 and £500,000 a year and estimates suggest Alessia earned almost £4,000 from sponsored Instagram posts in the first quarter of 2023, bettered only by England team-mates Lucy Bronze, Beth Mead and captain Leah Williamson. Her earnings from social media are expected to have doubled in the run-up to the World Cup.

PR expert Nick Ede said: ‘Alessia is a breakout star and with her athletic good looks she can command millions this year.

‘She’s already an ambassador for numerous brands and I can see her expanding this into more luxury and beauty territories.’

With their sights on the World Cup, the Lionesses stand to earn even more. Fifa has guaranteed that every player competing in the tournament will be paid at least £23,500, with every winning player receiving at least £213,000.

Despite all her success, many observers praise Alessia’s lack of arrogance. Man United’s Leah Galton said: ‘She works extremely hard and she’s one of the nicest people off the pitch I think’.

Russo was a talented sports star from a young age and is now an icon at her former youth clubs (she is pictured on August 12 during England’s quarter final match)

Alessia Russo of England looks on during a training session at Central Coast Stadium on August 15

David Beckham enjoyed a chat with Alessia, hosted by Adidas, before England’s game against Haiti last month – telling her his 12-year-old daughter Harper was a big fan.

Afterwards Alessia said: ‘He’s been one of my idols ever since I was a little girl.

‘That’s probably one of my biggest highlights, having a normal conversation with someone you used to watch on the world stage when you were younger.

‘It was amazing and he was really nice, a bit of a pinch-me moment in terms of what women’s sport is doing. It’s special to hear that Harper is a huge fan.

‘He said we should never lose sight of what we are doing as a team, which was really cool because we’re all in the moment in terms of all we see and competing every day on the pitch. The impact you have away from that is what’s really special to hear.’

But Alessia’s biggest fans are still her devoted family, and earlier this month, as she left for the World Cup in Oz, mum Carol posted an emotional tribute to ‘Lessi’.

She said: ‘The day is finally here, I can’t believe you’re off to your first senior World Cup.

‘How exciting. It only seems like yesterday you were that cute little three-year-old, dancing around in your tutu but desperate to give it all up so you could join football coaching with Daddy and play football with Luca and Giorgio.

‘We had no idea, did we, that it would lead to all this?

‘You’re living your dream and doing what you love, and shining like our little superstar.’

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