One day, the name Lauren James is sure to enter the history books as one of the all-time greats.
She is only 22, but there is already little doubt of this.
Both in the WSL and on the world stage, she has already captured the hearts of many with her speed, technique and goal-scoring brilliance.
New Zealand captain and Angel City defender Ali Riley told talkSPORT’s Women’s Football Show just how impressed she is by James.
But the young Chelsea forward has come in for criticism recently after some of her actions on the pitch were called into question.
When asked what James needs to do to ensure she continues to develop in the right direction, she said: “I think she’s had some moments with some reactions that she probably isn’t super proud of.
“Thinking about those things whilst still being able to herself.”
James was banned for two games at the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Nigeria after she stepped on Nigeria’s Michelle Alozie in England’s round-of-16 match.
And earlier this season, when Chelsea were trailing 3-1 to the Gunners at the Emirates, she caused outrage when she appeared to deliberately stamp on Arsenal midfielder Lia Walti’s foot.
As there is still no VAR in the WSL, the Chelsea striker avoided repercussions.
If James is to be great, she has to take valuable lessons from these moments and use them to grow in maturity.
For Riley, there is no doubt that James has what it takes to become the best she can possibly be.
She told talkSPORT: “She says in interviews, ‘I don’t like talking a lot’, but she doesn’t need to speak that much with words when she performs like that. And when she is smiling in front of opposition fans and you see this million-watt smile when she scores these goals!
“I just think she has this really cool personality, She has this camaraderie with her teammates – she is someone people want to get behind.
“And doing it consistently for club and country and showing that she is respectful and she isn’t going to react with referees or defenders in those moments, I think she can be someone who changes the game.
“Someone who little girls watch play and think wow, there is someone who does things that I didn’t know was possible.
“The way she can control the ball at speed, how powerful she is, left foot right foot, she’s in a category of her own right now and that’s so powerful especially when they’re playing on these huge stages for little girls to see. I’m really excited about her.”
After both the Alozie and Walti incidents, James’ actions were met by a barrage of racist abuse on social media.
It is something no player should ever have to deal with.
To further illustrate that, both Alozie and Walti both felt compelled to step in and release statements defending James and calling on people to stop targeting the youngster online.
Writing in The Times during last year’s World Cup, James’ former coach Casey Stoney admitted she had seen an ‘element of emotional immaturity’ from James before.
Stoney was manager of Manchester United Women from their re-inception in 2018 until 2021.
James played under Stoney for the entire duration of her tenure at Manchester United, before signing for Chelsea in 2021.
There are few better qualified to comment on James.
And while she was clear that James had done wrong, she also issued a stark reminder to those who would sing James’ praises in one breath and criticise her attitude in another.
“We cannot praise James for her age and how much potential she has without realising that she is also going to make mistakes,” she wrote.
For a 22-year-old who is already dealing with the pressures of international fame, whilst trying to help her club win a quadruple – it would be more surprising if James did not make mistakes.
She has good support around her, including her Chelsea manager Emma Hayes who has consistently stood up for the striker.
Speaking on the abuse James received after the Walti incident, Hayes said: “I think it’s disgusting, the amount of abuse she’s received from the public, from the media, from the press.
“I don’t see the same level of abuse attributed to other players in the league who’ve had their own challenging moments.”
Hayes hit on a crucial point: as James is no doubt well aware, the root of much of the abuse she faces is not – and has never been – her actions.
It is the colour of her skin.
To be criticised for stepping on a fellow player on the pitch is one thing – but that is not all that James is facing.
Back in 2021, she became the latest in a line of Manchester United players to be sent racist abuse.
Men’s team players Axel Tuanzebe and Marcus Rashford were also targeted – and it was nothing to do with their football.
James is only human – everyone makes mistakes.
And she will undoubtedly become more mature.
She will learn not to react in the face of frustration and she will surely become the complete star she has shown she can be.
Because, as she has already shown to the world, she is simply too good at football for that not be the case,
And if she continues to face unfair criticism, then she will be able to take comfort in each and every single goal she scores.
There are certainly going to be a lot of those.
You can listen to talkSPORT’s Women’s Football Show on Monday’s on talkSPORT 2 from 7pm.