I loved the mindfulness that transpired from every answer I got from Louise.
During the thirty minutes I got to spend with her, she walked me through her journey from Ireland to Sweden, the brief and unfortunate spell at Notts County Ladies, her experience at the Arsenal and the fresh start in Italy, last summer.
Now in her prime and with a fair share of experience across four different countries, Louise Quinn sounds like someone who’s at peace, with not much to prove to anyone but herself but the same determination and fire that drove her this far.
For a debut interview with a professional footballer, I couldn’t ask for a better interlocutor: we talked about football in a broader sense, from the mechanics of the game to the mental load of facing uncertainty and being forced to make extremely hard decisions at a very young age.
Obviously, we started where everything began, in Ireland.
Like Louise, I remember playing against mixed teams and, consciously or unconsciously being overly-careful towards girls. I would hesitate to tackle, pull away from 50:50 tackles and things like that, so I asked Louise if she ever faced a similar situation, while playing against boys: “Yes, until I kicked them, then they would start kicking back!” she said, which made me chuckle.
From Ireland, Louise moved to Eskilstuna, in Sweden, where she helped the team win the promotion to the first division and establish them as one of the top teams. Over three years, she became one of the first names on the team sheet, then was named captain and was among the best defenders in the country. At 22 years of age, she followed the advice of her teammates from the Ireland national team and left everything behind to move abroad, definitely not an easy decision to make.
Change seems to be a constant in Louise’s journey, whether it was by choice or by obligation: after her spell in Sweden, she moved to England with the Notts County Ladies, only to see the team dismantled shortly after.
I felt some bitterness in Louise’s words, when she was telling about how the whole situation was handled, and I could see why: “The owner wasn’t here, the CEO wasn’t there, they sent two guys I never saw before announcing that the team was being dismantled.”
That gave me the opportunity to talk about how different women’s football still is, compared to men’s football: although teams are being folded and things go south for men’s teams too, the ease and ruthlessness in women’s football is quite scary. We talked about this uncertainty and I got a feeling of fatalism, not necessarily in a wrong way: Louise seemed determined to cope with anything that football would throw at her, on and off the pitch, including swing balls like that one.
Then, we got to the Arsenal.
Louise had sweet words for the Club, her former teammates and Joe Montemurro (although she was signed by Pedro Losa) but before that, I asked her about her first days with the Gunners and who impressed her the most: “Jordan Nobbs, obviously, and Dan Carter: she was very quick, always moving inside or outside, she was tormenting me! I thought I had to figure that girl out or I would be in trouble, I couldn’t even tackle her, she was skipping through my tackles!”
Louise then spoke very highly about “a fantastic coach, second to none at reading the game” for whom she had a hard time finding a weakness: “I liked the way he builds a team culture, a very relaxed environment where every player can express herself at her maximum. It was never too relaxed, though, because Joe would quickly bring the focus back if he felt things were becoming too relaxed”.
Obviously, I felt compelled to ask her “the million dollar question” to use Louise’s words: how can the team get out of the spiral of bad results and bad performances against the top teams?
It’s been a while now that they couldn’t win against the likes of Manchester City or Chelsea but Louise has no doubts they will get there, eventually: “The girls are very good, they’re very motivated and confident, they have a great coach, it’s difficult to understand why that keeps happening. Maybe it’s a mentality problem”.
A mentality problem that perhaps could be solved with “a clear-the-air conversation in the dressing room”. I tried to enquire more about any of those but, unsurprisingly, Louise kept her lips sealed about the content of such meetings; she conceded that those could be “scary at the beginning but useful for the group to open up and find common points where to start off from”.
Time seemed to fly (at least for me…) but I had to ask a couple of questions about her life in Italy and Louise duly obliged, despite being on the clock. I asked her about the differences between English football and Italian football: “In Italy we work less on strength and conditioning and more on the ball. Players in Italy are very good at playing with their backs to the goal, holding up the ball and flick it, either for a teammate or for themselves. They cannot take a tackle, though! They’re always ready to give some, studs-up and everything, but they would go down if I went big with my shoulder!”
To end our conversation, I asked her to name two current teammates who could go to the very top and she didn’t have to think much: “Marta Mascarello and Alice Tortelli can go as high as they want, in Italy and abroad, if they want to make that choice”.
Here are two names the Arsenal should be writing down: if they’re good for Louise, they’re very good.
I would like to thank Louise for what has been a terrific experience, a conversation that taught me how being a professional footballer goes beyond what we see, as supporters. The internal and external pressure is real. The criticisms that pundits, the press and us are getting out don’t simply slip on, they are somewhere on the back of their heads and they’re not that easy to ignore.
Becoming a professional footballer means that every choice you make proves to be determinant for your career and making such choices at a very young age is not for everyone. You need to be brave to keep challenging yourself like Louise has been doing throughout her career.
When I told her that she didn’t seem scared of change, she replied that she was and she still is.
After all, what is bravery if not finding the strength to do what we have to do, despite fear?
Thirty-something Italian, currently in Switzerland. Gooner since mid-ninties, when the Gunners defeated my hometown team, in Copenhagen. Twelve years ago I started my own blog (www.clockenditalia.com) after after some experiences with Italian websites and football magazines. Debate, don’t insult or you’re out.