Creative Soccer Culture

Shanice van de Sanden On Success & The Importance Of Individuality

Individual. It’s a word that can have many connotations, and a word that has often been attributed to Shanice van de Sanden, flying winger for Olympique Lyonnais and the Netherlands. But however that term is attached to her – be it for her outwardly perceived exuberance, or her fantastic ability on the pitch, which has led to glory at both club and international level – the importance of celebrating individuality will never be lost on her, as we found out when we spoke recently.

As with so many pros, the enforced hiatus from the game over the last few months has given van de Sanden that one precious commodity that eludes so many at the top of the game: time. Time to reflect on her career, on the highs of winning back-to-back Champions Leagues, and the lows of not reaching her own incredibly high standards at the 2018 World Cup – a tournament that her nation were the runner’s up in. It’s these impossibly high standards that set her apart though, giving her a winning mentality that has seen her find success. As with all winners though, that success is never enough, and she continually strives to improve herself in all aspects.

An infectiously positive person to speak to, we thoroughly enjoyed our time with the flying Dutch woman, touching on everything from her late beginnings in the game and her forays in fashion to the purchase of her first house and the importance of the people she surrounds herself with.

So how are you doing Shan, how’s today’s training been?

Yeah it’s been a tough day with a hard training session. We usually train every day and have two sessions. Today we just had one session but also some physio work and relaxed a little bit after a tough week. We’ve been back training two weeks already.

Are you all gearing up for the return of the Champions League? You must be desperate to get playing again?

Yeah, exactly. I'm so excited. It's been crazy with the Corona Virus. We’re getting ready for the Champions League and I can’t wait to play in the final few games. I’m really looking forward to the Champions League.

You’re obviously back in Lyon now then, were you there during the lockdown or were you back in Holland?

I've been in Holland during the lockdown. I was with my family and I bought my own house in Holland. It was just finished before the Corona Virus started. So I was happy to be able to stay in my own new house with my girlfriend and enjoy that time. So while there was a lot going on in the world, it was perfect for me in that way. I was disappointed we couldn’t play football anymore but everyone is in the same position.

Like a lot of people we’re talking to, we’re finding out that this is the longest break people have had for years. Is the longest time without playing you’ve had in your career?

Yeah it has been for sure. I've never been out of football for so long. It's crazy.

Did you feel rusty when you came back or were you alright?

No, I was fine. I mean, I think that I needed this time off for myself, my mind. So, yeah, I'm back and feeling  fresh and I'm enjoying football again after a tough World Cup. I'm really happy to be back in Lyon and training with the group again. So I think for me as a person, it’s good timing.

I think for a lot of people, a positive to take from the situation is being able to reflect. To enjoy a new home and make the most of the time, how was it for you?

Exactly, for sure. It was a big treat because you know, buying a house is a big deal. Normally I would be thinking “I’ll just enjoy it in December when I have my holiday” but now I’ve had three months in my house and yeah I fully enjoyed it.

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I had my first training sessions with the girls and I really enjoyed it. From then until now, I’ve never stopped playing football – it changed my whole life"

Tell us about the house then, did you manage to get a sneaker closet big enough?

[Laughs] Yeah I’ve got one for my clothes and another just for my shoes. It’s not even big enough though so I think I’m going to need to make another one. Or I need to sell some stuff. I think I’m going to sell some stuff. I think it’s good for the supporters. I have too many shoes and I think I could make other people happy by selling them for a good cause.

Buying a house, whatever walk of life is a bit of a milestone moment. Did it feel like that for you? Away from everything you have achieved on the pitch, off the pitch, buying a house must be something you’re proud of?

Yeah, I'm really proud that I bought my own house. I think I didn’t realise that I really needed the three months off because that was also the time that I reflected about winning the Euros, winning the Champions League twice in a row, playing in a World Cup that I didn’t really feel was my tournament … lots of things. I feel that I didn’t play good enough in the World Cup for my team. So I’ve done a lot in a short time. All that in three years and in Holland I’m a big player and would say quite famous. Even if I go to the supermarket, people want pictures and those kind of things. My life has turned a lot. I wasn’t famous until recently and now I’m being recognised on the street. I think that’s a big change in my life. That’s why I needed time off for myself.

I suppose it must be strange going from that position for anyone who becomes well known. Your journey hasn’t been overnight but it still must be an adjustment mentally to adjust to that new way of living?

Yeah, that's true. It was mentally challenging, a big challenge, but also, in a weird way, I kind of forgot what I have achieved. Winning the Euros and stuff like that, I forgot that I’ve bought a house, I forgot that I had won the Champions League twice in a row. Everything just went so fast that I forgot all those things that I was proud of. Now I recognise and I know why I play football and how I won things like the Euros and why we won the Champions League. That’s why in this time that we’ve had off – the three months – that I think it’s been so good for me.

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Just touching on that a little bit. Not wanting to dig in a bit but did the World Cup give you a bit of a mental blow then?

Yeah, for sure after the World Cup it was tough. Before I couldn’t even speak about it but now because I have reflected about it, I’ve seen clips of myself back and taken it all in. It was really mentally tough because you are a big player and in Holland the people are … not negative, but you know, we are a big team so people want you to play a good game. At the end of the games, the people got stuck in my head, like when I had my first start and I was in front of the goal it was in my head. Normally as a footballer, you need to be free in your mind. I wasn’t free in my mind and I was at a World Cup. It’s also a great lesson. I would have never wanted to miss a World Cup and I’m still really happy that I was there, that I played in one with my team, that we are second best in the world. I mean that is a really great performance from our team. I’m really proud of my team and myself in the end.

You should be immensely proud. It's a ridiculous achievement... To come away from that and think of it as a life lesson is probably the biggest achievement of it all...

Yeah for sure...

Going back a little bit when we look at you, your journey before everything that has happened, do you think that you were always destined to be a football player?

When I was younger, I just started football when I was twelve years old. So I was quite old already because normally you start playing football when you’re like six years old. But one of the neighbours of my mum started painting our house for my mum and he said “Oh you’re always inside the house.” I was always on my laptop or computer. He said, “just go outside, make some friends or go and play a sport”. And then he told me to sign in at my local football club. I had my first training sessions with the girls and I really enjoyed it. From then until now, I’ve never stopped playing football since I was 12 years old. It changed my whole life.

Was there a point when you were in your teens that you thought it would be possible to make a career out of it?

When I started playing football, I didn't even know about women's football. I didn’t know anything. Until the national team coach asked me for a meeting. She said to me “yes Shanice, we really need you in the National Team”. I was just 16 years old. I had just played football for four years and already I was making my debut against France. From that moment it just went so fast that I haven’t even reflected anything about it. It’s gone so fast from then to now. I think it’s been a fast road to today. I’m still really happy because I’m playing for the best club in the world in Women’s Football and I’m winning big trophies. I shouldn’t have even dreamed of it before but yeah I’m happy and I’m so proud to be where I am right now.

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What were those years like when you were playing in Holland? Clubs like Twente, you won so much. Did winning just become normal for you?

No for sure not. I know that you really have to work hard to win trophies and it’s the same here in Lyon as well. You have to be 100 percent on the pitch, every single training session. I think that was the same at Twente because we were the best team in Holland. When you win the Championship once, everyone wants to win against you. So you have to be focused every single game. The second time, it was even harder to win the league and the third time was even harder than the second time. You have to stay focused because every single team wants to win against champions. So it’s always been tough, it’s never going to be normal.

What was it like to move to Liverpool and play in England in general? Was that something that you just really always wanted to experience?

I really love the people from England and I loved England as well. I love the way they play. I love the way they are in the gym it’s really physical over there and they never give up. They continue every single game. It’s very physical compared to Lyon. In Lyon, we may win many trophies but I wouldn’t say we’re the same way in the gym. It’s more about football over here for me. I like to play football but I also like the physical part of the game as well. I learned a lot in England and really enjoyed my time at Liverpool. Maybe once in my career I will go back to England because I really enjoyed the game as a whole in England.

When you look back, what were the highs and lows that you experienced at Liverpool?

I enjoyed everything at Liverpool. When you play in cup games like The FA Cup, I really wanted to win as well and we didn’t win anything in the time I was there. Part of the reason you start playing football is because you want to win things and I didn’t win anything at Liverpool so I think that was quite hard but the rest of everything while I was there, I enjoyed it all. I think Liverpool made me the player that I am today. It made me stronger. The experience as well, when you play against Man City, the big games, the big players - I really enjoyed those moments.

A move to a club like Lyon shows that you’re one of the Galacticos of female football. Do you see it that way?

No, I will never see it like that because I’m the kind of person that when people tell me I am important for the game or I'm a good player, I can never believe it because I always want to be better and better and better. If you train in Lyon, you soon see that everyone is so good. It’s unbelievable and I can’t compare myself to all the players around me.

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Football gives you so many more experiences other than just playing the game. You meet different people, you see all these countries and I think that is something that also makes me different as a person as well"

I mean, look at everything you've done from Nike campaigns, World Cup, Champions League, European Championships. How proud of those achievements that are written in history are you?

Yeah, I’m proud. It's the same when we are with national team when we go away to somewhere like South Africa. That you see the kids over there on the street, with no money. Football gives you so many more experiences than just playing the game. You meet different people, you see all these countries and I think that is something that also makes me different as a person as well. It makes you emotional because you see a lot of different cultures. I think that is a real blessing from football as it opens your eyes to the world and you get to see a lot that is going on in the World.

You're part of a generation that have helped bring the women's game to kind of a new level. People have bought into it a lot more, the popularity is growing. What have been the real turning points for you in terms of how it has changed over the last few years?

I think the last World Cup has changed things lot for the women's game as because there was so much attention for women's football as a whole. For me, winning the Euros for the Netherlands has changed everything in Holland. Like every game we play in Holland is sold out. There are twenty thousand or thirty thousand people in the stadium and that is something I had always dreamed of happening. Also with the Championship games we play, the support is always so big. I think a lot of supporters are interested in our games now. If you win trophies as a team, you get more attention and I think that’s what happened for us. I also think we deserve all the attention. We have always worked so, so hard and now you see that people respect our way of playing, our players, they recognise you on the street, they want you to sign their t-shirt or they want photos with you. I think that’s something we can be proud of, all of us.

One thing that's funny is that you make it all sound so easy … for example, the National Team coach just coming to you and saying “we need you” and then you are playing at the very top...

No, no, no, no, no, it doesn't feel like that but sometimes, it feels like I'm still living my dream. I'm working so hard to play better and to be a better player and win even more trophies. That’s why I think that during the period through the Coronavirus, I feel like I’ve seen what I have won. But part of you is still always working towards that next goal and wanting to win more trophies or experience new things. Like playing at the Olympics. Maybe that’s sometimes why it sounds so normal. For me though, it’s really abnormal. I just want to be a better player and be bigger with my team and national team.

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It’s a really humble way to be. I think maybe the world can underestimate how hard it is to get where you have. How hard would you say it’s been and how hard have you had to work to get to this point?

It's been a tough road for sure, because I played in the national team years ago and then a new coach came in and told me that I wasn’t good enough for the national team. So he took me out of the squad and I didn’t play for the National Team for five years. I went to him and asked him what I needed to change, why I wasn’t good enough and those kind of things. I was so angry because when you play once in the National Team, you want to stay in the National Team. You want to continue playing for them. After that, I spoke with my coach at FC Twente as well and I told him, “I want to play in the National Team again, I want to win trophies, I want to make that team better.” I also told him that one day I want to play for Lyon. He said, “OK, it’s a long road but if you believe in yourself, if you are going to make your crosses better, if you’re going to focus on the pitch, then you can achieve it”.

So I worked a lot with him on the pitch. I was disappointed every time the squad came out for the National Team over those five years. Every time I didn’t see my name in that squad it hurt. I kept saying to my coach at Twente, “is he not even looking at me, what do I have to do” about the National Team coach. I still just kept working so hard because I wanted to show people that I was good enough for the National Team.

At the end, the same coach that took me out of the squad, he called me and said “yes Shanice, I think you are getting better and I want to see you before the World Cup in 2015.” So I went and I played one game. He gave me 30 minutes and he told me the night before the game. I couldn’t sleep the whole night. That moment after the game, he said to me “you are good enough to come with us to the World Cup”. I was so happy and from that day til now, I just kept playing so hard and as a result I’ve been able to play in the Euros, another World Cup and done so much.

I was disappointed every time the squad came out for the National Team over those five years. Every time I didn’t see my name in that squad it hurt"
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Off the pitch, we've got so much respect for how you carry yourself. At what point did fashion become a real interest for you?

When I played at FC Twente, I went to school and I also worked as a hairdresser. That’s when I started painting my head. My hair broke at that point so that’s why I have short hair. I then started dying my hair different colours. I’ve always been a person that is a little outgoing and I like to be different. I really love fashion so when I started cutting my hair I also changed my outfits a little bit. I think that is when it all started. I think that is the moment I also started wearing make up and lipstick during games. I really like it and I feel comfortable, so why not?

It’s also something you’ve got more and more into over time. What do you make of when football and fashion mix?

For me, I love a lot of brands.  I like expensive brands but I have to say it’s important to combine what you’re wearing with any brands. From top end to Primark. Maybe sometimes shoes, a t-shirt or a cap or something but I always combine it with a cheap outfit. I think that is something important. I like to combine a lot of brands together. I also see that as a reflection of how I play. When you see me on the pitch, I’m the same both on and off. I think that’s also why people respect me for who I am. I am really open, social and I have complete respect for everyone. I accept everyone the way they are and I think that’s really important.

There’s players and brands out there that have come from the Netherlands and landed in the UK, two creative forces are the likes of Memphis Depay and Daily Paper. Do you see similarities in yourself with Memphis and brands like Daily Paper?

Yeah Daily Paper is definitely one of my favourite brands. They are my friends as well and they are from Holland. I’m really proud of that brand. It’s a sick brand as well. I’m wearing them a lot.

They are a brand pushing fashion, you’re a player pushing the way players dress in a good way. Do you now see the influence you have?

I wouldn’t say it’s something I look at myself and say but now that you say that, I feel proud if people think that way for sure. Also when I dress, it’s not like I’m thinking “people are going to love this” for me, it’s normal, how I dress. I see it in the changing room when the girls say “ooooh that’s crazy that you’re wearing an outfit like this”. They tell me things look sick so that is quite funny. Sometimes when I speak to Lucy Bronze or Kadeisha Buchanan, who are my friends, they’re often asking where I bought things from. It’s cool that they like the way I dress. I hope people are going to follow me in that way because it’s important to celebrate who you are and to dress how you want to dress.

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Touching on those players at Lyon, there’s obviously such a wide mixture of players but also personality. How much do you thrive when you surround yourself with good people?

It’s important to have people around me who are positive and give me positive energy. It’s always been really important. When I have too many people around me with negative energy, I feel that I change. I’m not really open, and I don’t really feel comfortable around them. For me it’s really important to surround yourself with people who are positive. Even when someone is negative or down, I like the opportunity to help them. To take their hand and say, let’s be positive, everyone has a bad day but life is short so continue and work hard.

It’s a good life lesson, no question. Were there people that helped give you that mindset?

Yeah lots of people. As an example, I spoke with one of my coaches from the National Team, the Assistant Coach. He came up to me and said “one thing that is always great about you is that you have the right people around you”. I think that is really important for everyone. In football yes, but it doesn’t matter what kind of work you do. It is good that you have the right people around you to keep you positive. Even if they’re people who are negative, it’s important to be able to say, “come on, stand up, we have a bad day but we all move forward”. There are a lot of people out there who would like to see you fall or break down and sometimes you don’t even know who those people are but it’s good that some people give you the words you need to hear like, “Shanice, come on, you don’t need this”. I think it’s important to also have honest people around you.

You mentioned earlier the importance of celebrating individuality. How much do you take pride in who you’ve become as someone who emphasises how important it is for people to be who they are?

For me, it's really important that everyone can be themselves. A lot  people may have a negative opinion on you, I have experienced this myself just for being me. I think life is that short that you need to be yourself. Even when your parents don’t accept the way you are, even if your best friend doesn’t accept who you are – if that’s the case then they are not your best friend. The people who love you and the people who are close to you, they need to know who you are. I think that it is hard for people, I know because sometimes you may fall in love with a girl and your parents don’t really like it but you don’t need to change who you are. Just stand up. Even if your parents don’t like it, or if anyone else doesn’t like it, you need to be comfortable in your life. I think that if you can be yourself, then you can be the best version of yourself.

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I think that is the moment I also started wearing make up and lipstick during games. I really like it and I feel comfortable, so why not?"

Outwardly speaking, your leopard print hairstyle was kind of that message in visual form. Did you plan for that to be a statement?

No not so much, it’s more that I just love the way it looks.

You’ve built a platform for yourself over time. It’s gone hand in hand with your football achievements and you convey such a strong message. Do you see the power of that and do you often think about using it to change the game?

Yeah, I want to do that one day. What I’d say is that I don’t want to start something without having a plan. I want to make a plan and approach it in a thought out way. Once I have a plan then I can start telling people what I think about stuff and how I can help other people. I think it’s really important to use your voice. Sometimes you do forget though because I’m working so hard to play with Lyon and with the National Team. Sometimes you don’t have the time to focus on that part of things. For sure, soon I will focus on that side of my career. I want to tell the World how I feel about various things but I want to do it with a plan.

I suppose the same goes for fashion and exploring those kind of opportunities. Would you like to delve into that area more? Release your own brand or collection as an example?

For sure, I want my own brand. I want my own jewellery, I want a lot of things and I’m always thinking about stuff like that but you know, I want the sick things. That’s why I’m waiting a little bit. There’s a lot going on in the fashion world at the moment. I want something that is truly different. There’s obviously a lot of brands out there that are very different but I definitely want one that just says to me, this is sick. I need to think and plan those kind of things but yeah putting out my own pants, t-shirt, hats and a combination of that stuff, it’s all something I would love to do.

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Final question then. Looking forward to the Champions League and being able to play football again. Do you feel like you’re going to look at match days differently now? Now that you’re back, do you feel like you need to play every game as if it is your last?

Yeah of course. I cannot wait to play my first game. I’m going to give absolutely everything I can in these games this season. I can’t wait to hold the trophy, that’s what I’m working so hard towards. Even the training sessions are tough. I’ve been training at home over the last three months but it’s completely different when you train at the club with a physical coach. When a training session is hard, I say to the girls, “girls, we want to win the Champions League, right?” and they “YES!” and I’ll say, “ok, yes, let’s go, let’s work hard”. I think that is how we can all help each other. It’s the same in the games. I’m going to give everything and hopefully my team mates can take energy from me as well.

Daniel Jones

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