In this exclusive Soccerex spotlight interview, Women’s Super League and Arsenal stars Beth Mead (England) and Danielle Van de Donk (Netherlands) speak about their careers, the evolution of women’s football in recent times and their expectations for the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019.

Beth, Danielle, thank you very much for joining us for this Soccerex Spotlight interview! Both of you just represented your national teams in the SheBelieves Cup in USA and the Algarve Cup in Portugal, respectively, two invitational tournaments that showcase the growth of women’s football. How was your experience in these tournaments and how have they evolved over the years?

Beth: Thanks for having us, I mean the SheBelieves tournament was amazing I’m probably sure you can guess why, because we won it! But England are lucky enough to take part in a tournament that includes some of the best teams in the world Brazil, USA and Japan so we are really testing ourselves against the best. And also an added plus is that we get to travel around different parts of America, which included Philadelphia, Nashville and Tampa Florida which replicates what happens in a World Cup tournament. The following in America is just a different level so we played in front of big crowds which also test us in a different way and it was an amazing atmosphere especially the USA game.

Danielle: I do not have the same answer as Beth in this case [laughs]. We played for the 11th or 12th spot which was disappointing for us. It is not what we are aiming for at all but I think we learn a lot during a tournament, especially because we don’t have many games with the national team to practice before a big tournament comes up again. So I see these tournaments as a change for each and every player who is there, to show the staff they are fighting for a spot in the squad for the world cup or even for a spot in the starting eleven and they all should been given the chance to proof themselves.

Beth, you have played for England at every age level from 15 to 23 and joined England’s first team in 2018, having already scored some important goals like the one to beat Brazil in the SheBelievesCup in February. How have you developed personally and professionally throughout this journey?

Beth: I first ever attended an England camp when I was 12 years old, so I have really bought into the system and what it takes to be an England player. I’ve dreamt since my first camp as youth player to one day become an England Women’s Senior international and as of April 2018 that dream came true. Although it was just the beginning. I’ve learnt so much along the way, by being involved in youth tournaments such as the Euros and a world cup which I was lucky enough to play a part in all them games. I have also had times where I have been a substitute and its crazy how your mindset can change or have to adapt which has also been a positive for me as I now can deal with different roles in the team. Our manager Phil Neville always says you’re only as good as your bench and that is so true.

Danielle, you have played and lived in three different countries - Netherlands, Sweden and England – with your biggest sporting achievement being the UEFA Women’s Euro 2017 title after a thrilling 4-2 victory in the final against Denmark in front of a local crowd nearing 30,000 spectators. How developed is women’s football in these three countries and how would you describe your experience becoming a champion with the Oranje in home soil?

Danielle: It’s a bit of a weird one, because after we won the euros or during the euros we had stadiums full with our supporters, we grown a lot and so has women’s football in general in the Netherlands. But this doesn’t conclude the level of the Dutch competition. That’s just because Dutch clubs or our FA don’t invest in it as much as they should to make it big and competitive. Most of the bigger players leave the Dutch competition to go and play abroad to get better. Same thing for the Swedish competition. Here is where the big difference is in my eyes. Competitions/countries with investment in women’s football are overall the better ones because it attracts the big football players. I think England is going to be one of the best competitions in the world because they are willing to invest and wanted to grow, the league has gone full professional. But winning the euros still gives me goose bumps and I hope this is the beginning of a series of good things going to happen for women’s football overall but especially in the Netherlands. We finally got what we deserved and I’m very happy I’ve been a part of it!

Both England and the Netherlands will be participating in the FIFA Women’s World Cup (FWWC) this summer in France which everyone in the industry agrees is set to be the biggest ever at all levels. How do you believe that women’s football has grown since the last one in Canada in 2015?

Beth: The change in such a short time is massive, now as female footballers we need to be showing what the women’s game is like on a world stage! It’s growing everyday the interest, the support, the backing, and now most women’s teams at the top level are now full time professionals so they are improving everyday teams are more competitive and that is developing individuals to reach the next level for their club and country.

Danielle: After winning the Euros massive things happened to us I feel like we got the respect we were always fighting for from people in the Netherlands and I am grateful for that. But it set the standards for the World Cup, people and teams look different at us now! We have to accept that we aren’t the underdog anymore and that it’s going to be as hard as always but I’m so looking forward to it!

What are your expectations for the FWWC? Which personal and team goals have you set for the world’s biggest women’s football tournament?

Beth: I mean England have nothing less than the mindset to go and win it, the last world cup England finished third and got knocked out of the semi final by Japan but we are now at a level where we should have the mindset to go and win the tournament. Individually right now I am just working hard to be selected for the squad there is nothing more in this world I want than being on that plane heading to a world cup.

Danielle: I think it’s going to be amazing, it’s only our second WC and we play our games in the North of France which means it’s quite easy to go to from the Netherlands. I am hoping to see a lot of Orange there as well. At our first WC we also got knocked out by Japan, just a round earlier. I don’t really have individual goals, I just want to bring what we did during the euros. But definitely hoping on a goal!

With Arsenal, you currently sit second in the FA Women’s Super League, two points behind Man City and having played two games less than them. Can Arsenal win the league this season and how can the Gunners go back to their winning days in European football [Arsenal are the only English football team that has won the UEFA Champions League]?

Beth: That is our main aim this season to win the league and qualify for Champions League, every game to us is a cup final and we have to worry about ourselves and no one else. The rest will take care of itself. But we are very determined as a team to do our best and make this happen.

Danielle: Yes, we can definitely win the league this year, but we have to bring our A game every single game left this season. We were flying in the beginning of the season but currently struggling with a lot of injuries what have made it a bit harder. Here for only I feel like we should win the league, we have gone through a lot and every individual player has been working so hard to be back on the pitch again for the team and the title. And we all have the goal to play CL next year but that comes with the title!

Apart from being footballers, you also went down the academic path in sports related fields and are currently undertaking a course in Football Marketing & Management at SBI Barcelona. What have your learned in the course and how does this knowledge help you in your career on and off the field?

Beth: For me I wanted to know what goes on off the pitch as well as on. Also behind the scenes, as players we are lucky enough to just be able to train and play but so much more happens. I’m practical also I know football isn’t going to last forever so I need a trade and some kind of pathway to stay involved in sport ideally football and this is a field of sport that really interests me so I wanted to widen my knowledge on this.

Danielle: I Already study sport marketing and sport management in the Netherlands, but it’s a study focused on all sports. Over the years I found out that my interest is very much only in the football area. That’s why I put so much natural interest in this course and I find it very enjoyable.

The business side of football is constantly developing and new roles are being added by football clubs, leagues and federations in order to support day to day operations which provides new opportunities for former players in addition to the more traditional coaching and media paths. How common it is among your team mates, whether on club or at international level, to pursue education with the view to develop a career in the business of football and in which areas can you picture yourselves working after your playing days?

Beth: A lot of my team mates both at club and international level are involved in some kind of education, coaching badges etc. We all know the importance to have a career after football so we are working hard on the pitch and off the pitch for our future.

Danielle: In the Netherlands almost everyone studies next to their football careers, because most women football players don’t earn enough to do nothing after their sport careers. But the studies are very broad, like they could be anything and aren’t necessary focused on sport studies. But speaking for myself, I like to think I will be a manager one day. My interest goes to men's football but will see what the future brings.

Usually players are asked about role models who inspire them on the pitch but, with women gradually securing more and more influential positions within sports organisations, who inspires you in the business environment and what do you most admire about them?

Beth: There are lots of influential women that inspire me such as Kelly Smith who played for Arsenal and England women, she was a bug player that helped women’s football get to where it is today. Jessica Ennis Hill, another sportswomen who inspired a nation during the Olympics. But the person I  really admire is my agent Margaret Byrne she is such an amazing person firstly, she was one of the youngest CEOs in Premier League history for Sunderland Men, she currently works with myself and a number of premier league and professional footballers who is respected to the max by. She is such a powerful and clever business women and she doesn’t care what anyone else thinks she is who she is and that really inspires me.

Danielle: Kirsten van de Ven. I always use to play with her in the Dutch league, I learned a lot from her and I really looked up to her. She’s been around the world with football and has been a great player for the Dutch national team. Now she is the General Manager at our FA for women’s football, which has inspired me to keep studying and make the most out of it. My mom has been a massive inspiration for me as well, she used to work three jobs a day to bring me everywhere in the Netherlands and provide the family with food and a happy household.

On March 8, the whole world celebrated International Women's Day. What does this day mean to you?

Beth: To me it is a day that women have a voice, they stand up for what’s right and for themselves. A day in which we can admire and respect the powerful women that got us to where we are today and given the respect we ultimately deserve.

Danielle: I totally agree with Beth’s answer. It’s a day to respect and celebrate the women who stood up for women’s rights back in the days and now! To take action and create awareness for equality in this world.  

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