Vivianne Miedema, a graduate of Johan Cruyff Institute’s Postgraduate Diploma in Football Business, considers it important to use her influence as a star of women’s football to take her sport to the place it deserves. “I don’t just want to be a football player, as a person I have much more to offer the world,” says the Dutch player, who is continuing her academic education
In 2020, Johan Cruyff Institute had in its classrooms an athlete who is set to be one of the big stars of this summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games. Vivianne Miedema, an Arsenal player, graduated from the Postgraduate Diploma in Football Business in what was a brilliant year for her, in which she also became the top goal scorer in the history of the FA Women’s Super League, won the best player of the year award at the London Football Awards and was named the second best footballer in the world by The Guardian.
Vivianne has been used to making a difference wherever she goes ever since she became, at just 15 years of age, the youngest player in history to make her debut in the Eredivisie. Her progression has been spectacular and full of records, both in her time in the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich and with her current team, Arsenal of the FA Women’s Super League. Those who know her know that Vivianne prefers to go unnoticed and stay out of the spotlight beyond the field of play. She still doesn’t celebrate goals, out of respect for her opponents, and doesn’t do much on social media, “although the postgraduate program helped me understand how you can influence people’s lives, how you can improve their experience by connecting with the fans,” she admits. All in all, she feels more comfortable letting her performances on the field speak for her and focusing on building her own story, in which football plays a very important part but is not the only thing in her personal life project.
A few days ago, she opened her laptop again to connect with Johan Cruyff Institute, but this time not to do homework, but simply to talk in a relaxed way about her career, what she has achieved, what is yet to come, how important it is for the stars of this sport to raise their voices to end inequality in women’s football, and about other concerns that give meaning to her life.
At only 24 years old, and after 10 years of professional football, I think we can say that you have already reached the top. Would you say that you’re in the best moment of your career?
I hope not. Many people say that you reach the peak of your career when you are 27 or 28 years old, so I hope to keep improving and experience many more good times coming.
At the age of 18, you dared to leave the Netherlands, to play in the Bundesliga for Bayern. How did it change your life? And, what was it like to make that decision?
Well, it changed everything. I left my parents’ house to go to another country, I didn’t know how to speak German, I didn’t speak much English either, so I arrived in Munich and I thought ‘what now?’ I think, for me, it was a very big step, really important, because I had to grow up fast, mature, become independent, which was very good, and I realized that there was a lot to discover outside the small town I left, Hoogeveen. Also, football was growing and I wanted to be part of that.
“Going to play in Germany changed everything; for me, it was a very big step, really important. Also, football was growing and I wanted to be part of that”
You are now at Arsenal, where you have become one of the best players in the world. What are your best memories of the three leagues you have played in: the Eredivisie, the Bundesliga and the FA Super League?
Winning Bayern’s first title in 2015 was very special. Coming into the team and winning the league—their last title had been in 1976—was great. With Arsenal, something similar happened to me, winning the league title in my second year with the team. It was a very complicated season, with a lot of injuries, but we managed to win the league. And last year we broke all the FA Women’s Super League records, it was a great year for the team. These are, personally, the moments I am most proud of.
And what are your memories from the Eredivisie, from Holland?
I was very young, I was only 14 when I signed for my first team, SC Heerenveen. The first day I walked into the locker room, I said to myself, ‘Wow, these women are quite a bit older than me. What do I tell them? What do I have to do?’ I think going from playing with boys to playing with women was quite a big change, the football was different and I had to get used to a different kind of game. The first season everything was new, I had to adapt. In the second season, everything was better. And, in the third season, the change was important, I scored a lot of goals, and the team did very well. I think that experience made me grow into the person and player I am today.
“When I was younger, I was a big fan of Robin van Persie. I loved him, he made me love football and want to be a football player”
Who has been your best inspiration, on and off the pitch?
When I was younger, I was a big fan of Robin van Persie. I loved him, he made me love football and want to be a football player. Now I don’t have idols anymore, I don’t need to be inspired by other people, I am very motivated to do my best. I love football, I love this sport, so I only think about continuing to improve and give the best version of myself. That’s what inspires me now. One of the reasons why I have decided to continue studying next year is because I don’t want to be just a football player, I think as a person I have a lot more to offer to the world.
“One of the reasons why I have decided to continue studying next year is because I don’t want to be just a football player, I think as a person I have a lot more to offer to the world”
And off the pitch, who do you admire?
I wouldn’t call it admiration, but respect. I work with War Child, an organization that helps children in war zones. There are a lot of people who fight for their beliefs. The world has changed, but I think people who fight for what they believe is right are admirable. Obviously, that complicates things sometimes, but those are the people we need, people who want to make a change, selfless people who want to help others. I have a lot of respect for them.
“I wouldn’t call it admiration, but I have a lot of respect for people who want to make a change, selfless people who want to help others”
Speaking of change, the France 2019 Women’s World Cup will be remembered to this day as the one of change: for the first time ever, it surpassed one billion viewers from 206 different countries, and more than one million tickets were sold. What do you think should be the next big change towards the global professionalization of women’s football?
I wish I knew the answer, because then it would happen. I think that, if we look at the last few years, women’s football has grown enormously all over the world—obviously in Spain, but in general, everywhere. In my opinion, the most important thing right now is that it continues to develop, that it continues to grow, as is happening in men’s football, where more and more money is being invested. It has to be the same in women’s football; the circumstances, the facilities and the opportunities for girls and women have to be the same as for men. And the moment that happens, the quality will be higher, everyone will be more interested in watching women’s football, and there will be more people in the stadiums, when Covid will allow it again. It is very important that women’s football takes a step forward at all levels—in investment, in facilities and, of course, in audience. There is a lot of work to be done, but we definitely need to move forward and be open to everything.
“In my opinion, the most important thing right now for women’s football is that it continues to develop, that it continues to grow, as is happening in men’s football where more and more money is being invested. It has to be the same in women’s football”
Ada Hegerberg refused to play in the World Cup and denounced discrimination. Megan Rapinoe took the chance to highlight the need for real change. Do you think that the involvement of the stars of the game, like you, is the only way to speed up the road to equality?
I think we do. We have to take advantage of our fame, our platform as current football stars, to take our sport to a much better place than it is. So, I think that, sharing our opinions and fighting for better facilities, conditions and investment is necessary and needs to be done. I think there are still a lot of people, especially in older generations, who believe that football is only a man’s sport, but that will also change over time. And it’s our job to help that happen. It’s fantastic that great female players are getting involved and talking about it. And it’s amazing that there is so much awareness in the world for women’s football to grow and for women to have the same opportunities as men. It can only get better from here.
“There are still a lot of people who believe that football is only a man’s sport, but that will also change over time. And it’s our job to help that happen”
2020 was a great year for you, individually and with the team. In addition, you graduated from Johan Cruyff Institute’s Postgraduate Diploma in Football Business and, according to your tutor, you were also one of the best students in the class. Tell us how you managed to combine your studies with your professional career as a footballer.
Well, we trained every day, we had to be on the field at nine o’clock in the morning and I didn’t get home until three o’clock in the afternoon. Sometimes I was a little too tired to do my homework, but I was usually organized. When I had a day off, I would get a lot of work done and try to keep up. I’m quite a perfectionist, so all the work I sent had to be up to standard. I’m glad the tutor said that, because I really enjoyed it. I liked coming home after football and having something to do, being not just a football player, but a normal person. I’m going to continue studying next year and that’s really good.
“I really enjoyed the postgraduate; I liked coming home after football and having something to do, being not just a football player, but a normal person”
Most of the athlete-students we talk with say that a dual career helps them in both fields. Did that happen to you as well?
Yes, I fully agree. When you are not studying, when you are working, you are fully focused on football, very much in your world. And if football doesn’t go well, nothing goes well. On the other hand, when you study, at least that’s what has happened to me, you realize that there are many more things, that not everything ends with football. You have to have knowledge, to have plans for the future. I think that when you feel stressed in class, you are less stressed on the field, it creates a good balance, the combination works. By studying, I realized that all the pressure I was putting on myself and my teammates, it’s not really necessary, you have to enjoy it. I think studying has helped me become a different player, which I think is very good.
“When you study, you realize that there are many more things, that not everything ends with football. You have to have knowledge, to have plans for the future”
How important do you think education is for athletes during their sports career?
A lot. I have always said that when I moved to Germany, I needed to study. What’s more, I didn’t speak any English or German, so I had to learn both languages, even to communicate with people, and at that moment it was clear to me, I wanted to do something and I started studying again. As we were saying, I think it’s a very good thing that you can do as a complement to football, I even think it helps you become a more adult person. It makes you realize that you have to focus on the right things and I think that, by the time you finish your sporting career, you have to have a plan, a future. For me, it’s very exciting to think about what I’m going to do next, what I want to apply my studies to. Even when young girls come to the national team, I always tell them that they should study, finish their studies, have an ace up their sleeve because … What if they don’t succeed? What if they get injured? You have to have a plan and my plan is to study. Actually, I love it, it makes me feel good, more relaxed.
“For me, it’s very exciting to think about what I’m going to do next, what I want to apply my studies to. You have to have a plan and my plan is to study”
What is your favorite aspect of sport management, and why?
To be honest, I hate social media, I’m pretty old school in that sense. I don’t like text messages, posts and all that, I prefer to meet people in person. But the postgraduate helped me understand how you can influence people’s lives, how you can improve their experience. That’s the part of the program that captivated me the most, the marketing. You can give your opinion and hopefully help others. I found it very enjoyable, especially the module on fan engagement. As a football player, it’s interesting to get to know what the fans expect from you and what they want, because sometimes you’re too busy thinking about your own stuff and you don’t realize that. I really enjoyed seeing that sport can be very different when seen from the outside, discovering the other side of sport.
“I’m still not the type of person who takes my cell phone everywhere and takes pictures thinking that people might like this or that. But when you study, you realize that something that may be boring for you may be interesting for others”
So, do you think that part of the program helped you improve your relationship with the media and contact with fans?
Yes, I think so. I’m still not the type of person who takes my cell phone everywhere and takes pictures thinking that people might like this or that. But when you study, you realize that something that may be boring for you may be interesting for others. And in that sense, a lot of times I find myself guessing what I can do. So, it’s definitely helped me.
As you said, you don’t rule out doing a Master in Sport Management. What are your plans for the future?
Actually, I’ve been quite busy lately getting my coaching badges. I’m doing the UEFA B right now. But, as I said, I love studying and I see myself linked to football, but I also love working with children, so I hope to bring football and management together, maybe to set up a football academy, or maybe organize clinics. I don’t know, I’m open to many possibilities. Marketing and sponsorship studies could also help me to work with young talents, to help them develop and focus on their career.
“Marketing and sponsorship studies could also help me to work with young talents, to help them develop and focus on their career, but I’m open to many possibilities”
Who is Johan Cruyff for you?
I am young and did not see him play, but I remember him as a coach. For me, he is a legend that transcends football. His way of talking about football, his ideas… In fact, a teammate gave me his biography and I have it in my backpack to start reading. I’m looking forward to it. He is a legend in Holland. When I started playing football, wherever you went people talked about Johan Cruyff. And it’s incredible everything that has been created around him, the academic part, the Johan Cruyff Institute’s Postgraduate Diploma in Football Business, the small football courts all over the world. He is much more than a football player and his legacy is extraordinary.
“I am young and did not see Johan play, but I remember him as a coach. And it’s incredible everything that has been created around him, the academic part, the Foundation, the small football courts all over the world. He is much more than a football player and his legacy is extraordinary”
And finally, why did you decide to study at Johan Cruyff Institute?
I know a lot of players who have studied here. In fact, one of my teammates at Heerenveen, Maruschka Waldus, was a student at Johan Cruyff Academy Amsterdam and she told me that she enjoyed it very much. She recommended it to me, I started to get information on the internet and all the references I found were very positive. So, I made up my mind, I felt I had already wasted too much time, I needed to focus on my studies again. As I said, I really enjoyed the first year with the Postgraduate Diploma in Football Business, the flexibility it gives you. If I needed a couple of extra weeks to get through the syllabus or if I wanted to move forward with something, they gave me the option to do that and that’s really good because it takes a lot of stress away. So, I’m looking forward to starting the master’s this coming year and hopefully graduating next summer.