Jackie Groenen (22) plays for the Dutch national squad who won the 2017 UEFA Women’s Championship, a crowning reward for years of hard work and focus. Increasingly she sees how important it is to ‘do other things as well’. “I get lots of energy from the European Championship and the activities arising from it.”
It takes a top performance to win the European Championship, certainly if you are one of the stars of the tournament. And so there is every reason to call Jackie Groenen a top player. She, however, prefers to be called a talent. “It sounds younger.” At the age of six Groenen was the first girl in the Netherlands to play football with boys. Raised in a real football family, she had a highly developed technique. From the age of 15 she played for women’s teams abroad, including Chelsea and 1. FFC Frankfurt, where she is currently under contract. She is by no means finished yet; winning the 2017 UEFA Championship has left her hungry for more, with the Olympic Games, World Cup and Champions League all beckoning. She is also enjoying the ancillary activities which have arisen from the European Championship. She already had experience training Paralympic football players and has become the ambassador for the related charity campaign, Zwaluwen Jeugd Actie. “More and more I’m realising just how lucky I am.”
“When I was younger I never really saw winning something like the European Championship as a goal. I was more focused on turning my hobbies into my work. I didn’t really fancy the idea of a normal job and so I wanted to get as far as I could in sport. Initially I found it difficult to choose between football and judo. As a girl I was five-time Dutch judo champion and was a bronze medallist at a European judo championship. I made it my goal to compete in two sports at the same Olympic Games. Breaking a hip bone in a Dutch judo championship changed all that. Older and more realistic, at 16 I made a definite choice for football.”
Resilience & perseverance
“A year after my hip injury I sustained a serious knee injury while playing football. Medial ligament, meniscus, almost everything was damaged. German doctors refused to operate on my knee and told me I would never play football again. We did not give up and went looking for other doctors. Luckily a surgeon in Louvain said: “I’ve seen worse, we’re going to fix this.” He operated on me the next day and I recovered!
“I don’t mind having to cover a lot of ground during training and on the pitch. I enjoy working hard and know full well that everything I do is a form of luxury. Leading a disciplined life is no sacrifice for me either. I’ve never been much of a party animal. I am a real family person, though, so I don’t always find it easy being on my own in my flat in Germany. But I see it as part of the job. In addition I mix easily within a group and have no problems with differences in culture. I managed to settle in quickly in London and Frankfurt. Sometimes it takes foreigners a while to get used to my Dutch directness. I have strong opinions and am used to expressing them freely.”
“My father is my greatest source of inspiration. He still coaches me from a distance, in addition to the coaching I get from other people. We speak on the phone every day and he comes to watch every match. During coaching it is important to me that I not only get instructions but that I’m given the freedom to think. I’m an intuitive player who wants to play her own game.
“My great example is Johan Cruijff, because of what his presence on the pitch and his creativity. I am a different type of player, a real mid-fielder. I can take great pleasure from a successful opening pass.”
“In order to perform you need to suffer. But personally I also need distraction. What I mean by that is that I want to do things other than football, like my law course. Why? In top-level sport you are always focussed on yourself. Once in a while I want to focus on something else. For example, it makes me feel good to do something for other people. When I played for Chelsea I trained the Paralympic team. I wasn’t quite sure what was involved but I just went for it. The first clinic went down very well and the parents of the disabled players thought it was great. That gave me enough reason to carry om with it.
“I think it’s great to see how much enjoyment people with a limitation can take from football. I want to help them get the most out of their lives. I get great pleasure from football and want to inspire others to do the same.”
ING and football sponsorship
ING wants to help Dutch football get ahead. By building new changing rooms, further developing youth football, helping clubs establish women’s and girls’ football. We want all children to enjoy football more, pay special attention to children with a limitation, help amateur clubs maintain their financial health and get closer to the national team.