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Vivianne Miedema: From the brink of retirement to WSL history

Vivianne Miedema is at the top of her game.

She was named BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year 2021, is pushing hard for the Women’s Super League title with Arsenal and is ready to lead the Netherlands’ defence of their European crown this summer.

But there were times when things were tough for the striker.

It was 2015, just after the World Cup in Canada. Miedema was only 18 and the Netherlands’ journey had been ended by a 2-1 defeat by Japan in the last 16.

“It was the toughest moment of my career,” she tells MOTDx.

“I was really close to retiring. When I came home, I said I couldn’t do it any more. I couldn’t deal with the pressure, I didn’t like football and I told my mum ‘this is me done’. I was going to play for fun back in Holland.”

The making of a legend

By then, Miedema was playing in Germany with Bayern Munich. She had moved from SC Heerenveen in her homeland a year earlier and, despite winning the league title in her debut season, admits she was out of her comfort zone.

“Bayern felt like the right step after Heerenveen,” says Miedema, now 25. “I didn’t speak English or German at the time so it was difficult, but winning the title was great.”

After almost giving up, a change of outlook put her on a new path.

“My mindset changed,” she says. “I was feeling a lot more free, feeling a lot more OK about myself and not listening to the pressure of the outside world.”

Miedema joined Arsenal in 2017, the year she became a European champion with the Netherlands.

Legendary status at the club – and in women’s football generally – is already secure. She helped Arsenal win the WSL in 2019, she is the league’s all-time top scorer and this season she became the first player in the competition’s history to record 100 goal involvements.

‘There weren’t many female role models so I followed the men’

From a young age Miedema has thrived on adversity and proving people wrong.

She grew up playing against boys in the small town of Hoogeveen before joining HZVV and going on to VV de Weide and then Heerenveen at 14.

“I started playing football because I wanted to be part of a team with my friends, I’m still the same now,” she says.

“I was part of a really small family – it has always been my parents, grandparents my brother Lars and me. Being able to share football with him has been really special. We used to live in an apartment with a football pitch in front of it.

“It was never weird for me to be the only girl on the team. When I walked on to the pitch, the opposition would be like ‘oh, this is going to be easy because they’ve got a girl’. I absolutely loved that because it would always trigger me. I’d want to score a hat-trick, which I usually did.”

The growth of the women’s game, and Miedema’s role in it, means young girls have role models they want to emulate. It was not like that for Miedema as she grew up in a male-dominated football landscape.

“There weren’t many female role models so I just followed the men’s game,” she says.

“I supported Feyenoord growing up, so it was Robin van Persie, Dirk Kuyt, Thomas Buffel. Then there was Raul at Real Madrid, these kind of players.

“I was a big tennis fan. Serena Williams was a massive example to get the best out of my career.

“It is amazing to be seen as a role model and for young girls to say ‘I want to be like Miedema’ or ‘I want to be like Fran Kirby’. To have that platform is great, to show what opportunities there are.”

Despite being so prolific in front of goal, scoring 83 league goals in 74 games for Heerenveen, 52 in 78 for Bayern and 72 in 85 for Arsenal, Miedema sees herself in a deeper role on the pitch.

“I’ve never viewed myself as a number nine or a finisher. My position was always number 10 when I was younger – I wanted to set people up. I know I can score goals but I wouldn’t say it is the main part of my game.”

Vivianne Miedema wins BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year 2021

‘I don’t like being the centre of attention’

With Miedema out of contract at Arsenal in the summer, her future has been the subject of much speculation.

She has been heavily linked with European champions Barcelona and previously told a Dutch newspaperexternal-link that she wants to win the Champions League.

“England was one of those countries I thought was really exciting,” she says. “I spoke to a couple of English clubs [when I left Bayern], but Arsenal gave me the best feeling and I liked the idea of being at a club that wanted to get back to the top and win trophies again.

“The league felt like it would grow. I’ve been really happy being part of this team and part of the club and I’ve liked being in the league. England is the strongest league out there and I think it will only develop further after the Euros (in England this summer). It is exciting to see where it will go.”

Along with the records and plaudits, Miedema says she has developed away from the pitch this season.

“This is the first season I’ve felt like I’ve not just grown as a player, but I’ve grown as a team-mate and a person,” she says. “Once you’re happy off the pitch you can perform on it.

“I come across quite cold sometimes – I don’t like being the centre of attention. Still sometimes now I struggle with the pressure that comes with football.

“I’d love to be able to leave a legacy behind of saying, ‘no matter what you do, just be yourself and accept who you are’.

“I’m 25. I’ve still got a few years in me.”

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