Vivianne Miedema’s goalscoring feats for Arsenal and the Netherlands mean she is rarely out of the headlines but the striker still finds it uncomfortable being in the spotlight.
The Dutch forward, who joined Arsenal as a 21-year-old in 2017, has broken a number of records on her way to becoming one of football’s most prolific goalscorers.
Miedema has now added the 2021 BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year to her growing list of individual honours.
After winning the award, at the age of 25, she reflected on a decade of life as a professional footballer; from growing up idolising ex-Arsenal and the Netherlands striker Robin van Persie while playing for VV de Weide boys team, to becoming both the Dutch and Women’s Super League all-time leading goalscorer.
‘I hope there’s someone in the Netherlands looking up to me’
Miedema was five years old when she first kicked a football. Born in Hoogeveen, the Netherlands, she grew up with her younger brother, Lars, and their parents. Her dad and grandad both played football, with Lars currently playing for Velez in the Spanish Segunda Division. Football is very much in her blood.
“When I was younger I looked up to Robin van Persie and Dirk Kuyt. I didn’t really know what was out there for women’s football.
“Obviously for little girls growing up now, they probably know me and they know Sam Kerr. They’ve got women’s players as idols which is amazing.
“I hope there is someone in the Netherlands right now that’s looking up to me and saying ‘I’m going to break her record’, because I want to see that.
“My mum, dad, gran and grandad, my brother – they’ve always supported me playing football. For them to be there all the time, I really appreciate it.”
‘Enjoy it, be free and live in the moment’
Miedema has come a long way since signing her first professional deal. She was just 14 when top-flight side Heerenveen offered her a professional contract – so young that her parents had to sign it for her. On her home debut she came off the bench to score two goals in a 2-1 win and as a result, became the youngest ever player in the league.
Since that day, Miedema has won two German titles with Bayern Munich, a WSL trophy with Arsenal, become the Netherlands’ leading goalscorer, broken Nikita Parris’ all-time WSL scoring record and made history for the most goals scored at a single Olympic Games.
“In the early days of my career I had a couple of years and seasons that I wasn’t able to enjoy football.
“I’d tell 14-year-old me back then to just enjoy it more. To care less about what is going on off the pitch, to fully live in the moment and just go from there.
“It’s quite tough sometimes to fully enjoy what you’re doing but I’d tell little me to just enjoy it and be free.
“I think lockdown really helped me with that. After lockdown the excitement was really there to play football again, to be back on the pitch and be back in a stadium with the fans as well.
“I really needed that lockdown to switch off mentally and get fit physically, that definitely helped me through the busy season last year.”
A prolific star who hates the limelight
Despite regularly making the headlines for her goalscoring feats and individual accolades, Miedema does not thrive under the spotlight and never has done. In fact, like her goalscoring ability, her low-key goal celebrations date back to her childhood.
In one game for VV de Weide boys she scored five goals and registered two assists in a 7-5 win against a first division club who had former Ajax forward Richairo Zivkovic and Rangers midfielder Juninho Bacuna in the starting line-up. Now, after a decade of playing professional football, she has more than 300 career goals.
“I’ve not really taken the time to look and actually appreciate it all. I hope that comes after my career, but knowing me I’ll just move on and be awkward with everything.
“My team-mates were laughing at me because they knew that I felt really awkward on the pitch [receiving the Footballer of the Year award].
“Something like this always comes as a surprise, I got a bit overwhelmed.”
A ‘really exciting future’ for women’s football
The FA recently announced its new three-year strategy to grow the women’s game. With record viewing figures recorded for WSL matches broadcast live this season, the FA is now targeting an average attendance of 6,000 across the women’s top flight. A record crowd is also set to watch the Euro 2022 final at Wembley Stadium in July.
“It’s really exciting to be a part of the game itself, it’s something we’ve been fighting for.
“To see the leagues growing not just in England, but in Europe, it’s really exciting. With the Euros coming up this summer, it’s going to be a big one.
“Again it shines the light on women’s football which we all need. It’s got a really exciting future and I’m happy to be a part of it and excited to see where it’s going.”