If you’re wanting to make an impact on the international setup ahead of Euro 2022, an 11 minute hat trick off the bench isn’t going to hurt your prospects. That’s what Alessia Russo can now claim, and on only her second senior England appearance. But that’s just one marker in what’s already been a journey full of highlights.

From Charlton to Chelsea to Brighton to the experience of college and playing in the States and back to Manchester United with two senior England appearances and all by the age of 22. Now add to that the backing of adidas, and Alessia Russo is set up for success. With one eye on the future and potentially walking out on her home ground for the Lionesses’ opening fixture of Euro 2022, we found out all about the journey and the enviable trajectory of this powerful and pacy forward when we caught up recently.

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You’ve experience so much at such a young age from different clubs, different countries and an international journey too – how has that all helped shape who you are?

Yeah, I went to America for three years and kind of threw myself in the deep end with it all and it was great, I loved every minute of it. I wouldn’t regret going out there. When I went out there people were quite opinionated about it and said that I should’ve stayed in England. I went out there and experienced the whole college system, it was amazing. The best three years of my youth. You meet so many cool people and get to travel and experience so much. So yeah, it definitely shaped how I view life now.

Can you paint a picture of your childhood for us? Come from a sporting family it seems with your brother going to the States on a scholarship too?

Yeah, he definitely influenced me to go to the US. I always knew about it growing up, learning about the US National Team and what route they go through. I was always interested in it. I’d been to America a few times and loved it. I had a tournament with England in LA, and it was full of college scout’s – we were about 15 or 16 at the time. When UNC (University of North Carolina) reached out, it kind of like made my decision even more solid because that’s the school I’d always dreamt about. I went to visit and saw it all, it was amazing – I couldn’t really say no

What about football when you were growing up, how early on did it come into your life and grab you?

Really young I think. Luca and Georgio (my brothers) are a few years older than me. When I was three or four they were eight or nine and they would be playing football every weekend and training too. I think I wanted to do everything they wanted to do – because they were playing football, I wanted to play. They would stick me in the net and just kick the balls at me in the garden. I’m surprised I’m not a keeper to be honest. 

As I got older, I would play out on the pitch with them and go down to the football with them where my dad was the coach on Saturdays. It took off from there. Ever since I can remember, I have always been playing football.

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What about when people started to take notice of your ability, did you clock that?

I think originally every time I was playing it was on a boys’ team. I think around eight or nine years old I went into Charlton’s academy and then I got scouted to go to Chelsea so I was quite young. I’d been playing for a few years for fun and then before secondary school it got a bit serious.

What kind of players did you idolise? What was it about their character?

I mean everyone idolises Ronaldo a bit because of his work ethic and professionalism but I also idolise Kelly Smith because she was a pioneer for the women’s game. Also, Thierry Henry. As I’ve got a bit older, I’ve looked back at his game more and more. He was just an amazing goal scorer which I’m trying to be.

Can you tell us a bit about what it was like to go from different clubs in England and then go out to America?

I guess I’d been at Chelsea for most of my youth which was quite stable then went to Brighton. Once I was in America I found a bit of stability. I was there for a long time, I had time to get used to it and adjust to the league. It was hard chopping and changing but it was great at the time and I guess when I look back at things nothing is with regret and everything happened at the right times.

What was the lifestyle like out in the States? Can you paint the picture?

Yeah, it was great. You’re in like a college town, its full of 18–25-year-olds so its buzzing. There is so much to do and there is never a dull moment really. American sport is unbelievable at college and there are so many different top, top teams. The level of performance is so high across the board. That was one thing I really liked about UNC: all the teams were competing for National Championships every year. So, you’d go to watch a basketball game there would be 27,000 people for a college game. You’re like “woah, what is this?!”. And you go to a football game and think their stadium holds about 40,000. It’s what you see in films a bit.

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Did you have that uni experience then where you make mistakes, let yourself go a little bit? For a lot of players, you get into the academy, you lose those years where you get to mess around a bit. What’s it been like from a female perspective?

Yeah, I think that when you do go to UNC, you do get a nice balance with a social and football life. That’s one of the reasons why I went as well, because you do miss out a bit if you were to go pro right away – I know that is a great route as well but for me its important to have that life experience as well and going out there you would be in season and train really hard but then you would get time off as well where you could go to parties and meet new people and go to different events. That was important because when you get yourself into professional football you often miss out on that social life and while I was young I thought, if I can get the best of both worlds then why not take it?

What about all the fraternities, all those American cliches from films, do they exist?

Yeah, they do. I went to a couple of fraternity parties. I didn’t actually know this, but Greek life is massive. There are fraternities which are the all-boy houses and sororities which is the all-girl houses. Sororities can’t throw house parties its just the fraternities. They are nice houses, but they’ve all been wrecked from all these boys throwing parties every week. All the red cups that you see on films… But yeah, the social life is great out there and it was so nice to compete at really high standards and also enjoy that social side of life.

Even down to tastes and interests and fashion – would you say it impacted you in that way?

Yeah, lots of things did really, I had to grow up a lot quicker than maybe I expected. I got a lot more independent in that time. I actually discovered a love for coffee when I was out there. I did like coffee but in America they have a Starbucks on every corner of every street. So, I got into coffee a lot more when I was out there. I tried loads of new food and just threw myself into it really. Tried everything and did everything. Now I have a coffee machine!

United then call. Tell us about that, what does that moment look like?

I think it was all really up in the air when I left UNC. I wasn’t meant to leave until the December but obviously Covid hit so I was home for lockdown and then I went back out there a lot later than I should have because I couldn’t sort out the flights or stuff because it was all locked down. I went back in July and then in late august decided that it was best that I came back and played over here.

Covid at UNC made it really unpredictable, and we weren’t sure if we were having a season or how many games we would have. I spoke to my brother Luca and we reached out to clubs over here after I’d sat down with my coaches in America. I just had a little International taste with the England seniors as well at the She Believes Cup, so if I wanted to stay around the squad I would have to be playing. So I came back, when I found out United were interested it was amazing because obviously I’m a United fan and all the family are too. I had a few friends on the team and I knew that they were loving it and the trajectory of the club was going in the right way so it was a perfect fit.

Does it feel like the move to United was the one that you had put all the graft in at other clubs to get?

Yeah, I still think that there is a lot more work to do and lots more goals to tick off but it is a time when you can reflect. It was my first pro contract, signing at United, and it was a bit later than most people because I went to America so I was 21 when I signed. I guess you do look back and look how far you have come but also look at how far you wanna go forward. When you do such big things like sign for your childhood club it makes you want to work even more.

What kind of fan were you as a kid? How big was United to you?

We were all massive United fans. We all had the latest shirts. My dad especially would watch all the United games and it was the era with Rio, Vidic, Van der Sar – they were all in their prime. It was great because they were doing really well, and it would make us want to play even more.

To be part of the club now, is that surreal?

Yeah, it is, you don’t really realise it until you hear things like that and I think that on a day to day basis you don’t really realise it. Manchester United is one of the biggest clubs in the world and it’s surreal to think you’re a part of that. It doesn’t really go through your mind as a statement until you say it out loud…

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In terms of dreams – you mentioned about lots more you want to achieve – do you ever find your mind wandering as to what the next dreams or next future could be?

Yeah, I like to set goals. There are lots of trophies and club competitions that I want to win and National Team competitions I want to be involved with. I want to win on that level. I think that you always have one eye on the present and the upcoming games but also when you’re training, you’re not only focused on that but also focused on where you want to go and what you want to win.

I think in any sport you’re always looking forward to what’s coming but always excited about what’s to come after that and I think to tick things off like that is how I work. That’s what always focused me in the moment but I also very much realise if I do well in the present, good things will come in the future.

You’ve gone through every international stage, smashed down milestone after milestone. Do you consciously set those targets then?

I mean some I set; some just happen. The bigger ones I set are for example, getting in the senior England squad. I think it’s always a target, but at club, winning games, scoring goals. When I was progressing through the youth ages, I realised that I just had to do everything I could that is in my control to get into the next level. From there, obviously big goals like winning big trophies – you all set them as a team and as individuals. I just work hard and hope they will tick themselves off.

Now you’ve got a hat trick ball to your name after just two senior appearances for England – it’s a good time to be in your boots isn’t it?

Yeah, it was great to be back in and around the National Team. It was kind of my second camp since injury and I was just loving being back and training with the squad. When you get a taste of it again you always want more. I was in and around the squad but I wanted to push for minutes and things like that. To be able to be given an opportunity for my second cap was amazing.

I kind of didn’t think about the goals, I hoped they would come but yeah it was great to score three and quite quickly too. I mean you’re playing with such quality players that some of the time it’s put on a plate, so you just have to put it in the back of the net.

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I guess that moment, literally the whole world was watching that performance because the nature of it being pretty insane. Have you had that moment to look back at it emotionally and say you’ve done an amazing thing there with your England appearances and scoring a hat-trick for your country? it’s such a big achievement…

Yeah, I think when I scored the first one, on the pitch I was a bit emotional but then the whistle goes and you’ve got to get back into the game there is still 25 mins left and then I kind of didn’t have a ton of time to really look back on it. The camp ended and I was back at United in no time and we had Conti Cup tie to play in. You don’t really get to take in the moment massively because you’ve got something else coming up that you see just as important.

Your family must be on another level of pride given all you’ve achieved. What’s their reaction been with each milestone? Playing for England, an enormous thing for them…

Yeah, it was great to have my family in the stands. Obviously with the past 18 months and covid  they’ve not been able to come to a lot of the games. It was great to have them all in the stands for such a special moment like the England hat-trick.

When you think of all those milestones, and what you’ve described, it’s such an amazing journey, almost as if football was inevitable for you. Did you ever think that a career in football wouldn’t be possible?

I think growing up I always dreamt about being a professional player but when I was growing up it was a time when if you wanted to perform in women’s sport, you would have to have another job, you couldn’t rely on just football. So, growing up I always knew I wanted to play football, but I wasn’t sure on whether it was going to be a career, which is partly another reason why I went to America as well to be able to get a degree, study and meet loads of new people.

But yeah, the progression of the women’s game, it’s getting there but there is still a lot more to do we have a lot more barriers to break down. I’m fortunate football can be my sole job and what I do every day.

America, move to United, adidas deals. Kind of shows the levels you’re operating at. How does that feel?

I never thought it would be a career like this. To be able to represent Manchester United, England and adidas it shows how far I’ve come. I want to push on with the brand and take United and England even further.

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Whether that is you linking up with a coffee brand or adidas, is it important to you to link up with likeminded brands and partners?

Yeah that’s one of the reasons I’ve partnered with adidas because their vision is really similar to mine and I think that there is a lot of opportunity to do great things. One thing I’m big on is developing young girls and pushing more of them into the sport. Adidas and I have already spoken about how we can help do that and that is massive for me.

When I was growing up it was so nice when a player would come and coach us. In women’s football you can have a bit more access to female players because the game in growing. When I was young at the academies and we’d see a first team player it was amazing, so if I could do that to young girls at Manchester United or England or wherever, that’s my give back to the game.

Have you seen that, the effect you can have on people?

Yeah, a little bit. I never really see myself as a role model but I guess you kind of are. I went down to Stretford High School a couple weeks ago and got involved in one of the young girls sessions and I can remember being in their shoes. Kelly Smith came to my school when I was young. I was so excited. I wanted to train so hard and show her what I could do. Its nice to see young girls do that and to go and do something like that and make their day that little bit better is massive for me.

On the men’s side of things, while there are countless doing incredible things for good causes, its almost not assumed that you are going to be a role model or do things that help the future. You can be a player and be in the background and live a luxurious life etc. For female players, there’s this feeling or assumption that you must do things to change the game for the better. Do you feel that pressure?

I don’t see it as a pressure necessarily but yeah you’re right, women at the top level are not expected but they feel they need to help bring the women’s game forward and give it the exposure that is deserves. I think it’s a tough one because obviously you should never feel that you should be a role model but at the same time a lot more women at the top level are more willing to be a role model because they know the struggles of getting to the top of their game. If we can make it a little bit easier for the next generation then it’s a feel good factor for us all. For me, it’s more like I want to help them because it was hard for us.

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When you think of things – you mentioned then with adidas and having those conversations about things you want to do together – does that sort of seem like an opportunity to start making that legacy?

Yeah, for sure and that’s one of the reasons why I’m with adidas as well because I think the brand as a whole is so inspiring. They’ve been with me through tough times last season and always been there to help so now its time for me to commit to the brand and help them as well. I want to work together to try and go in a positive direction both on the pitch but also off the pitch and reaching out to the community and helping young girls.

Finishing football is far away, but do you ever think about the mark you would like to leave on the game?

Obviously you want to leave a mark as being one of the best players in the world but off the pitch you want to be a player that inspired the next generation. I want to help and support that next generation. I want to go to help train them and have them feel how I did when a player would come to visit my team. Just seeing a professional in real life makes you realise that this life is achievable.

Touching on away from the pitch, your lifestyle, and things that you’re passionate about, obviously going to the States says a lot about your character in kind of looking for new experiences. How would you describe yourself?

Yeah, I love new opportunities and kind of being thrown in at the deep-end and figuring it out. I love exploring really. I love fashion as well. To experience fashion in America and over here is nice to see. I love to meet new people, work with new people and be a bit adventurous.

How would you describe your fashion taste – on the daring side?

People might say my fashion is not daring but I like to look at current trends and fit in with that. But also a few things that I wear, some of the girls wouldn’t wear what I wear.

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Who does it well in your opinion? Where do you take confidence from or like what they’re about?

I think when we have Tobin and Christen at United, their fashion was really cool and I’d always speak to Tobin about it. They would always use it as a way to express themselves, especially when they came into a new environment.

Looking forward then, the Euros, being on home soil and the thought of being involved… What goes through your head if that was an opportunity?

Yeah, going back to setting goals, that’s definitely a goal of mine. There is a lot more work to do and lots of things I need to achieve this season to show that I’m worthy. A Euros on home soil is an unbelievable opportunity. Especially being the only tournament this summer. I think its great for women’s football and hopefully its even more of a booster to push women’s football in the right direction. With that sitting at the end of the season, every player I know is working so hard to get there. It makes us hungry to achieve on a club level. I want to do everything I can to get there and be a part of that squad.

Have you thought about it much? The first game being at Old Trafford as well…what would it feel like to be part of that squad and walk out at the Theatre of Dreams? It’s almost like so many dreams coming into fruition at once…

I have thought about and I do think about it. But not in depth about the moments that could happen. It’s far away in the sense there’s so much left to play of this season. I know I need to do well in the here and now with United to be in with a chance of being in the squad. As a fan though, being at Old Trafford, on the pitch, as an England player, in front of a home crowd…that thought is so exciting.

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Alessia Russo Wears The adidas X Speedflow .1, which is available at prodirectsoccer.com