Club journalist Rob Pollard catches up with Manchester City Women star Carli Lloyd ahead of her Blues debut on Saturday.
If further evidence of Manchester City Women’s rapid rise were needed, it arrived in emphatic fashion last month when the Club announced the signing of Carli Lloyd, a two-time FIFA World Player of the Year whose 16-minute hat-trick in the 2015 World Cup final provided the most iconic moment in the history of the women’s game. There is no bigger star than Lloyd, a player who has made rising to the occasion on the grandest of stages her speciality.
Her achievements tell you everything about her footballing ability, winning mentality and constant desire to improve. She won Olympic Gold with the US Women’s team in 2008 and then helped them to the final of the 2011 World Cup, where they lost on penalties to Japan. Lloyd missed one in the shoot-out, a moment forever etched in her mind.
But she emerged stronger. She won her second Gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, scoring both goals in a 2-0 win over Japan in the final, before her career zenith – three goals in the opening 16 minutes of the 2015 World Cup final, again against Japan, the third of which saw her chip Ayumi Kaihori from just past the halfway line. There has rarely been a performance of such brilliance on that kind of stage and she became the first person since Geoff Hurst in 1966 to score three goals in a World Cup final.
“I think that was probably a career highlight,” Lloyd says during a long conversation at the City Football Academy, her new home until the culmination of the Spring Series in May. “It’s funny because I think people forget that I wasn’t myself and I was actually really down in the dumps for the first three or four games. I got a goal and then another goal and I started to get in a rhythm leading up to the final.
“The third goal was pretty surreal. I started chuckling because you dream of something spectacular like that happening in a World Cup final but for it to actually happen was incredible.
“At that stage I was so in the zone, it was like I was playing in the park with my friends. Growing up I was a player who tried different things, I was a risk taker. I wasn’t a player who just kept it simple because I was afraid of making a mistake.
“I try different things. I will shoot from distance or try a backheel in a game. I picked up the ball, took a touch, took another touch past the defender and I saw the goalkeeper really far off her line so I decided to just go for it. Within milliseconds I struck the ball and when I hit it I knew that I had done it absolutely perfect. She did get a hand on it but luckily it went in. That’s all about the type of player I am; being a risk taker.”
Throughout her career, she’s proven her big-game credentials. While others wilt when semi-finals and finals come along, Lloyd, like the greats always do, so often rises to the occasion.
“Some players fold and some players shine and I’ve always been that type of player throughout my career,” she says. “It’s the moments where I have prepared so much, got through the obstacles and over a long period of time I’ve trained my body to still shine in a sixth or seventh game of a tournament when others are tired and may not feel fresh.
“For me it’s all about the preparation, the mental prep, the physical prep and visualising getting it done. I think I’m the type of player who doesn’t want to be remembered as scoring in a 9-0 game. I want to be remembered as scoring in a World Cup final and those pressure situations are the moments that I live for.”
At 34 and with a drawer stuffed full of medals, Lloyd could be forgiven for taking things easy – but it’s clear talking to her that there is no chance of that happening. She’s come to City to register new achievements and improve her game. City’s possession-based style of football, which relies of technical quality and tactical astuteness, appeals to her because it differs from what she’s used to. There’s still plenty to learn and achieve.
“I’m a footballer who likes to play, to have thinkers around me who can play good passes in the final third and build up possession,” she says. “They [MCWFC] play great football and I think Nick and the coaching staff have done a great job of putting the right pieces together to make the team successful.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that with the facilities here, the team and with Nick, that I will improve. I know I’ll be a better player for the couple of months I’m out here.
“I enjoy playing good football and City play great football, they like to build from the back and play fantastic through balls. It’s good in the sense that it’s very technical. They pride themselves on getting good technique and getting repetition on that. The intensity is still pretty good. Obviously, in the US we’re a pretty intense country when it comes to football. The back and forth, transition game is part of our DNA. There’s loads of good things in the US and here. It’s just great to get a different view and be able to improve my game in different areas. So far it’s been great.
“I’m 34 now, I’ve travelled the world, I’ve been alone, away from friends and family and now from my husband – but it’s football, it’s what I love to do. The team has been so welcoming. They’ve been great. It’s fun. I pack a bag in the morning, I stay here all day long, get some treatment, get some gym work in, go out to the pitch and do some extra runs or ball work. This what I’m here to do, I’m here to play football, help the team in any way I can. It’s been great.”
For Lloyd, the chance to play in the Champions League was too good to turn down. She will make her MCWFC debut this weekend against Reading, before a trip to Denmark to play Fortuna Hjorring in the quarter-finals of Europe’s biggest competition.
The double-Olympic Gold medallist has achieved plenty in the game – but becoming the first American woman to win Europe’s elite competition would sit nicely alongside her other notable achievements. Manager Nick Cushing approached her and there was too much on offer to turn it down.
“The Champions League was the big topic when Nick reached out,” she says. “They did a fantastic job in getting the team to the quarter-finals and for me I would never have that opportunity if I did not come and play abroad, so that was a big thing for me.
“Obviously in the FA Cup they’re in a good position and then there’s the Spring Series. There’s different things besides World Cup and Olympics and what’s going on back in the US to be a part of and to conquer.
“And I also want to grow the game. I think being here is growing the women’s game. A lot of people have been talking about it - it’s a great thing for the game.
“I’ve always wanted to play abroad, but a lot of things had to line up. It’s a non-World Cup or Olympic year for us back home so that enabled me to think about other opportunities.
“It all started with an email from Nick and we went from there. Having visited here, seen the facilities and met the people who work here – the team is a quality team, they’ve done super well – all of these things kind of fit. I like to surround myself with the same type of people, who work hard, are respectful, have great character and this is the place for me to improve my game.
“When people ask me what’s better Olympics or World Cup, they’re both good, they’re different. Champions League would be up there. It would be level with the World Cup or the Olympics. No American has ever won the Champions League. To be part of that would be something special. Hopefully we can get the job done. I’m always looking for more. There’s competition coming up and I want to win because I’m a winner and I find ways to get the job done.”
Read more about Carli Lloyd and the MCWFC team in the Reading programme, available from the concession and ticket booths priced at £1.50.