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Inside Stories: England vs Europe

With the growth of women's football continuing to rise by the day, Brexit on the horizon and an influx of both male and female footballers opting to play in Europe, we were keen to get the Inside Story of some of our clients who have played in both England and in Champions League teams in Europe. At Next Gen Sport Solutions, we're keen to give our clients a voice and allow them to share their stories so throughout this article, we will hear from NGS clients; Caitlin Hayes, Rio & Steffi Hardy and Rhema Lord-Mears.

With the spotlight glowing brighter by the day and participation on the rise in women's football, the standard of the game in England and Europe is also increasing. Over the past couple of years, many players have left England to play within Europe, but what challenges does this bring to the players involved?

We spoke in-depth to some of our clients who have experienced both and got their honest thoughts. Cumbrian twins Rio & Steffi Hardy are still at the tender age of 23, not many female footballers are more well travelled than Rio & Steffi. Over the past 3 years, both girls have played in America through University in South Alabama, before signing a professional contract for Grindavik in the top league in Iceland and then making the move to Apollon in Cyprus back in January this year and helping them secure Champions League football for this season.

Rhema Lord Mears and Caitlin Hayes also share their Inside Story on the differences and challenges between English football and European football. Over the past 3 years, Rhema has spent time at Sheffield FC (then in WSL2) before attracting interest in Belgium from Champions League side; Anderlecht, and recently signing for Blackburn in The Women's Championship. Warrington based central defender, Caitlin Hayes, has followed a similar route to Rio & Steffi Hardy after moving from an American University in Mississippi to WPSL side Chattanooga to Champions League side Barcelona FA in Cyprus before signing for Lewes in The Women's Championship at the start of this season.

First of all, we took a look at the playing differences between England and Europe. When you look at the elite European teams in men's football, you can instantly see the differences from England - warmer weather, the emphasis on possession and the tactical discipline spring to mind, but does all this transcend across into the women's game?

Rhema Lord-Mears told us "I think one of the biggest playing differences is the competitiveness, in Europe everyone wants to win and be the best, whereas here I find that more people play football as a hobby. Training was just as competitive as a game, if not more. As professionals (in Europe), they're more self-critical on issues away from football such as the nutritional elements and performance analysis whereas in England the feedback tends the be on the club to instigate this to their players". Steffi Hardy also reiterated the comments made by Rhema by adding "Off the field everyone is so much more relaxed than in England, until it comes to training and games wheres its a 'win at all costs' mentality".

Away from football, life in a new country can sometimes be intimidating, especially when you're on your own and unable to speak the language. Throughout the men's game, the coverage tends to be on high profile transfers from Premier League footballers moving to La Liga or The Bundesliga where you can expect multi-million pound houses and flash sports cars but the women's game is at the opposite end of the scale still and shared houses, shared cars and part time jobs alongside football are more profound. 

Steffi Hardy mentioned "Some of the small things like going food shopping and washing your clothes can be difficult at first because all the labels are in a new language but you soon get use to this". Rhema also expanded on the language barrier issues "I think the biggest hurdle for me was the language barrier. My housemate only spoke French, and English is a 3rd language in Belgium. I was able to communicate with everyone to some extent as football is somewhat a universal language but I felt very much isolated as I would have to talk to most people via a third party"

Caitlin also elaborated on this by saying how she struggled with the language barrier and how this effected her early days in Cyprus by telling us "I struggled massively at first with the language barrier, I probably let this effect me far too much as I would get frustrated that things were necessarily communicated very well both on and off the field. But a lesson I learnt over there and happens to be something I recall today is - first seek to understand rather than seeking first to be understood. I think that's a valuable lesson to learn"

Dispute the language barriers, different temperatures and new cuisines, the attraction for playing in Europe still remains high. Rio Hardy stated "After playing in Iceland, I wanted to continue to play full time football and I'd heard about NGS from other people within women's football. Within a few weeks of signing for Next Gen Sport Solutions, me and Steffi had several options to play in England and the option to play in another country and challenge to play in the Champions League with Apollon. I wouldn't change anything". 

Rhema Lord-Mears also mentioned that she wouldn't change anything about her experiences by quoting "There's not a lot that I would change as it's still one of the best experiences of my life. I struggled at first with trivial things but that could have been worked on. I'd have picked up the language, learned to cook and got use to being on my own."

Many would argue that the English leagues still dominate world football, both in the men's and women's game. Caitlin backed this up by saying "I think for me it was time to come home (after Cyprus). I don't think many, if any, would argue against the thought that the English leagues are still the best in the world and thats what attracted me most to coming being asked every day by my mum "When are you coming home?" also took its toll on me and played a part in my return to English football"

To summarise the very first of our latest Inside Story series, Rhema, Rio, Steffi and Caitlin all agreed that the opportunity to play football abroad was something that they would not change, but it does come with its down sides. 

Throughout the upcoming Inside Story publications, we take a deeper look into more areas surrounding women's sport. The highs, the lows and the area's that don't normally get the attention. If you're interested in working with a dedicated sports management company that specialise in working with female athletes, you can contact us on the button below for a private and confidential chat with a member of our Management Team.

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