Interview – Jackie Groenen, European champion – „We wanted to show that we are really able to play football and that it is a pleasure to see us play“

Jackie Groenen interviewed by Gerd Weidemann. Lesfeminines invited the former Chelsea player (2014 – 2015) Jackie Groenen to look back and tell us, what led to the surprising victory of the Netherlands at the Women’s EURO 2017. An enormous desire of the players to show to their country that they can play football and how good they can play. How did they achieve this successful performance, which earned the female players the respect and esteem of the male football stars of the Netherlands?

It was indeeed a real surprise when the Netherlands team won the Women’s EURO 2017. Jackie Groenen, 22-year old midfielder of the German club 1. FFC Frankfurt, Champions-League winner 2015, a club which has not played the Champions League since, talks about her team’s way to this stunning victory. How was the preparation for the EURO 2017?

Jackie Groenen. After failing to qualify for the Olympic Games in March 2016 we put the focus on this important tournament in our own country and prepared for it. We played friendly games against the big national teams, Germany and the USA. In Januar 2017 Sarina Wiegman became head coach of the national team. We concentrated still more on the summer tournament and met nearly every month for preparation. We had a real plan how to work and prepare for the first game of the Euro. In 2017 we played against big teams like France and then also against Austria and Iceland. We had a long preparation, after the end of the national championships we came together – me for example after the end of the Bundesliga I had only three days free. Our preparation was organized in a way that at the beginning of the EURO every player was fit. In the course of time, especially under Sarina, we have made a lot of progress. In April we lost against France 1 – 2. The result of the game was not the most important to us, we wanted to play in a specific way and we wanted to show that we are able to play football, we wanted to get the Dutch people interested to come and see our games. I think this attitude helped us to come so far in the tournament. In your first game of the EURO against Norway (European vice-champion four years ago) you played a very strong game, did you expect this opening game victory?

Jackie Groenen. Yes, we did. During the preparation phase we already felt that it was our turn. We are a team that has many different qualities and we fight together. Of course, in our eyes, we were not favourites, but we were confident that everything would work out well

and that we could beat everyone. When standing on the pitch we were very confident in ourselves. And one should not underestimate what it does to players when there are so many people from your own country who support you, and it also gave us that extra push. How did you feel before the first game, before it all started?

Jackie Groenen. Well, I was really nervous. For me it was the first big competition with the national team, and it was very special because it took place in our own country, at home. When our bus arrived at the stadium, I can honestly say, that we were all sitting there with tears in our eyes. There were so many people who had all been waiting for us, they were dressed in Orange, it was so beautiful. We went to the dressing room and we thought: Folks, that is really something very special, let’s go out, please have fun! We had this attitude during the whole tournament and it was so helpful and important for us in the competition. When did you join the national team, and what is so special about your shirt number 14?

Jackie Groenen. Since January 2016 I have been in the national team and when in January 2017 Sarina Wiegman became our head coach, she immediately told me that she had confidence in me and consequently let me play. About number 14 I can say that during the preparation I still had number 18. My coach knew that I would very much like to have number 14, and when the player who had number 14 was injured shortly before the EURO Sarina came to me and asked whether I would like to have number 14. No question, I immediately took that number. It is, of course, for me a very special honour, because it is the shirt number of Johan Cruyff. I felt drawn towards his playing and he influenced me. I often watched videos of Cruyff, he always was a role model for me when I was young and that is why it is so special for me to be allowed to have his shirt number 14. You did a perfect group phase, then you beat Sweden and England, was there an especially difficult game during the competition?

Jackie Groenen. Yes, in any case, it was the group game against Denmark. A game which was very hard to play, when we did not perform as well as we could. Perhaps because of our first game, the opening game against Norway, where we had given everything. If you play an extremely good game, the following game is often very difficult to play. The pressure had increased – on behalf of the Netherlands, the supporters, the media. In that game we had to fight to win the points. Yet, that also showed why we felt that we could become European champion. One often says, the team becomes champion which also wins the diffcult games, and that’s what we have done quite well. Was there a game when the team was convinced that you would be champion?

Jackie Groenen. From the beginning we thought we would be successful. Perhaps the biggest game was the one against Sweden, when we all said to ourselves: „Wow, Sweden was second at the Olympic Games, that will be a really hard game.“ During the whole

game we had the impression that we could beat Sweden. In a certain sense, that was a small turning point, and so we thought: ‚If we are able to win this game, we will be able to achieve much more.‘ What did the strong Dutch media coverage mean to you?

Jackie Groenen. It was a new experience for us that we got that support, but it was really good, we took a lot of energy out of it. It was a sign that they took us seriously. And there were football players and analysts, who in the past had expressed a negative opinion about women’s football, who then supported us. For us it showed that in the Netherlands we were able to change the general opinion on women’s football. How important were the spectators in the stadium?

Jackie Groenen. They were fantastic. We all know that never again we will experience something similar, because it was a EUROin our own country, at home. For all of us it was the first time that we had this support; it was not unexpected, but the extent of the support was a indeed a surprise. The day after the final we were driven to Utrecht in a bus, where we took a boat for the canals of the city and then we went on a podium in a parc where already 22,000 people were celebrating, that is something one never forgets. I still enjoy looking at the pictures, it was simply overwhelming. Tell us something about the situation of women’s football in the Netherlands?

Jackie Groenen. In the Netherlands there exists a relatively young women’s football league, now for about ten years, the championship is developing, and there are more and more men’s football clubs which create a section for women’s teams like Ajax Amsterdam and PSV Eindhoven. In the past it was nearly always Twente Enschede which played in the Champions League and two years ago they also beat Bayern Munich. This season Ajax Amsterdam will compete in the Champions League. does your victory mean for women’s football in the Netherlands?

Jackie Groenen. I think that it was very important for women’s football, and I hope that it will create more possibilities for young girls, who like to play football. And as I have already said in the Netherlands: – When I was young I always had a male football player as role model and the difference is that girls now can have women players as role models. And that is a great honour also for us players. What should the association do in order to support girls‘ and women’s football?

Jackie Groenen. The Dutch association has already done something, but there are still many young players who play in foreign leagues. The simple reason is that there they can earn more money without having to work besides football. This puts women’s football on a more professional level. In the Netherlands it is still normal that besides playing football in the first division, players have to have to work for hours and hours. It means, in this respect the association could invest more money and take care that

the female players get a sufficient monthly income, and then women’s football also in the Netherlands could become more professional. When looking back, what was decisive for the success of the Dutch national squad?

Jackie Groenen. I think our will to win has pushed us on, and we wanted to show the people something good to look at. We players also had a lot of different qualities, we had Lieke Martens, who is a good dribbler, we had Vivianne Miedema, who always is able to score a goal, she is very dangerous, and we had Shanice van de Sanden up front, who is so quick that nobody can stop her. We had a very stable midfield, and our defense was also solid as well. Until the final we had conceded only one goal. We also really had the technical qualities to win. Will the Dutch national team, also in the future, be able to rank among the best women football teams of the world?

Jackie Groenen. Yes, I believe we have the quality. Yet, il will not be easier in the future because we are no longer the ‚underdogs‘. Looking at Germany you can see that the pressure to always win does not make things easier. I believe that our team will continue to have this quality and we will not allow such a pressure. What was for you the most special experience during the EURO 2017?

Jackie Groenen. Besides the great first game and the final, the most special was the fact that the male footballers supported us. That may sound foolish, but it has not always been the case and their support gave us a lot of energy. They really looked at our football, they also criticized important things. Yet, criticism itself is nothing bad, what is decisive: they have looked at our football as football games and not as a game where women are running around on the pitch. And that is a very big difference.

And for us one of the most important points of the EURO 2017: We really wanted to show that we can play football, that it is a pleasure to see us play. This development is so important for women’s football in the Netherlands, as well as abroad. We wanted to show that we are able to play football, therefore we always continued to drive forward, to show what we can. That was our attitude which has brought us so far.

Lesfeminines says Thank You for this interview