By Alec Fenn
Vivianne Miedema is a woman in a rush. This summer she'll play in her second World Cup, on the back of her eighth season as a professional footballer - and she's still only 22. SPORTbible catches up with her to find out more about her incredible journey so far...
If you've ever found yourself singing along to one of Taylor Swift's biggest hits then you'll know that 22 is a year of partying in between university deadlines, falling in love with strangers on nightclub dance floors and taking those brave first steps into adulthood. But not if your name is Vivianne Miedema. "I feel like I'm 40-years-old already," she laughs, midway through a breathless 30-minute chat that passes by as quickly as her career to date.
Vivianne Miedema in action for Arsenal
At 22, the Arsenal and Netherlands striker talks and plays with the assurance of a veteran. It's little wonder, she's always been ahead of her class. Miedema made her debut for Heerenveen when she was still a 14-year-old school girl and was that young her parents had to sign her first professional contract on her behalf. "I was sharing a dressing room with grown women who had children," she recalls in an exclusive interview with SPORTbible. "I was basically still a child myself and I must've been very annoying to be around, but my team-mates were incredible with me. They picked me up from school, drove me to training and helped me to grow up fast."
As well as the challenge of being thrust into an adult world ahead of her time, Miedema also had the unenviable task of juggling her studies alongside her football career. "I really struggled," she admits. "Fortunately I moved to a special sports school which helped a lot and enabled me to finish my education and get some decent grades. I genuinely loved school and learning about history and economics but I wasn't so great at languages. I can't wait to be able to study again one day in the future."
Remarkably, for a woman who claims to struggle with mastering foreign tongues, she made the decision to move to Bayern Munich at 18 - despite barely knowing a word of German or English. "I was massively out of my comfort zone," she says in perfect English. "During my time in Germany I learnt how to live by myself and be a responsible adult. I learned a new language, how to cook and played some good football for a great club. They were three amazing years." Her time in Germany also developed an internal grit. "I have a strength of character I wouldn't have had, had I not moved to Germany at 18."
If her iron will was forged in Germany, her artistry was the by-product of a childhood spent modelling herself on some of Netherlands' modern greats. "Robin van Persie was my hero," she says. 'I loved watching him play for Feyenoord and I remember as soon as he moved to Arsenal I started supporting them and watching a lot of English football." It was little wonder, then, that she followed in Van Persie's footsteps when Arsenal came calling in 2017. "It's a huge honour to play for this club and the fact that Van Persie used to play here makes it that extra bit special," she says.
In the two years since her arrival, Miedema has established herself as the best player in the Women's Super League. She started her second season in England with a hat-trick in a 5-0 win over Liverpool in September, a performance which was the catalyst for a campaign featuring a highlights reel of spectacular goals and performances, that fired Arsenal to the title. She ended the campaign with a WSL record haul of 22 goals, while her final tally was 39 in 46 games in all competitions. Her performances saw her crowned PFA Women's Player of the Year in March alongside her compatriot Virgil van Dijk, who received the men's prize.
Robin van Persie in action for Arsenal before he left for Manchester United
PFA Player of the Year winners Virgil van Dijk and Vivianna Miedema
There have been times when she's looked like a woman playing against girls, an appearance she attributes to a childhood playing against boys. "When I was a kid, I played at the highest level of boys football until I turned professional, against guys who are now some of the top players in Europe," she continues. "I also played with my brother every single day and he's now in the first team at PEC Zwolle. That upbringing definitely helped my development - I really think all girls should try and play against boys and men as much as possible."
It's been eight years since Miedema called Netherlands home but her profile has soared in her homeland. "After we won the European Championship (in Holland) in 2017 the women's team became famous overnight," she says. "We went from playing in front of 4,000 people to selling out 30,000-seater stadiums in 30 minutes. We can't leave the house now without people recognising us." Her success has also earned the respect of her childhood hero. "After I surpassed Van Persie's international goals record (she has 57 to his 50) he called me up to congratulate me; it was a really special moment."
There could be more to come, with Netherlands among the favourites to win this summer's World Cup, despite reaching the finals via the play-offs. "People are talking about us because we won the Euros, but we know it doesn't work like that," she says. As she looks to pen a new chapter on the pitch, she's also been busy penning several others off it. "I've brought out four children's book so far," she adds. "I have another one coming out just before the World Cup and then a further five after that. It's for girls who play football or want to get into football - it's a great way for me to pass on my experiences." It's hard to believe she's still only 22.
Vivianne Miedema wears the adidas X18 boots available from adidas.co.uk/football-boots