With the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup just two months away, it’s been a joy to watch all the progress that’s been made in the women’s game. At last count, a whopping 330,000 tickets had been sold for the tournament. With that kind of demand, it should be no surprise that club level matches have seen a surge as well. Just last month, the Atletico Madrid vs. FC Barcelona women’s match set a world record in women’s club level attendance when 60,739 fans showed up for the rivalry. That was followed by Juventus women playing their first ever game at Turin’s Allianz Stadium where a crowd of 39,000 (a record for an Italian women’s league game) watched as the Le Bianconere took down Fiorentina 1-0.
Just two years ago, there was a surge in popularity with The Netherlands Women’s National Team. The Oranjeleeuwinnen (Orange Lionesses) defeated Denmark 4-2 to win the 2017 UEFA Women’s Championship for the first time in their country’s history. It was a tournament that raised the profiles of players like Shanice van de Sanden, Vivianne Miedema, and most notably, Lieke Martens. All three names are recognizable in Dutch football and across Europe. But there’s another name you should have on your radar. A young player who’s been making waves in her domestic league and recently caught the eye of the national team. That name is Ashleigh Weerden.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with women’s football, I can make it relative if you follow the women on our U.S. National Team. Holland’s Alex Morgan is Lieke Martens, the star and the face of the team (like Mia Hamm was for us in the 90s). Ashleigh Weerden is their Mallory Pugh, in that she’s a young star on the rise and is only going to get better. I use that comparison for familiarity’s sake because this young baller is in a complete league of her own.
I stumbled across a highlight video of Weerden about two years ago. The first visual I ever saw was a young 17-year-old nutmegging her opponents. Not in a backyard, not at school, not in practice, but an actual professional match. She has so much quality on the ball that it’s hard to believe she’s only 19. She has pace, strength, technical ability, high football acumen, and exudes confidence. Her height, fearlessness, position on the wing, and ability to maneuver in tight spaces is why I dubbed her “Little Messi.”
Ashleigh fell in love with football after playing at school with her classmates. At 7-years-old, she started getting serious into her ball and played for SC Buitenboys. She played with the boy’s team until she was 15 and was scouted by CTO Amsterdam. At 17-years-old she signed her first professional contract with Dutch giants FC Twente. “FC Twente is a really good club! They always play for trophies and titles every season.”
The full interview is available below. She’s a joy to watch and a pleasure to speak with:
What are some challenges you’ve experienced while playing football?
Playing on a boys team while being the only girl can be really hard. They didn’t always accept me and I had to prove myself 10 times more than a boy had to. I was not really comfortable in that team and I didn’t really enjoy it. But I had a dream. I wanted to be a professional football player so I had to get through this obstacle. I managed to just focus on myself and I came out even stronger than before!
Which clubs (men’s and women’s) are your favorite to watch?
I love to watch Barcelona & PSG [men] and Olympique Lyon, PSG, and Manchester City [women].
Are there any clubs that you hope to play for one day?
My favorite clubs are Olympique Lyonnais and PSG. Of course, I hope to play for one of them one day! But I also get really excited about English clubs like Manchester City and Arsenal.
You were recently called up to the senior team for The Netherlands. How does it feel?
It was a dream come true. Before I got called up I had a couple of interviews and they asked me what my goals were. One of them was ‘getting called up for the national team’ and a couple of weeks later my wish came true. It’s always an honor to represent your country. I was really excited to play with the best players in Holland.
How do you feel about the team’s performance in Portugal?
I must say that the results were very disappointing. We lost 2-0 to Spain, 1-0 to Poland, and drew against China (but we won after penalties). The coach tried some things out with several players and wanted to get a good impression of all players so it was normal that not everything went as planned. But we learned a lot from these matches and we saw where we need to train to be on our best at the World Cup.
Who is faster, you or Shanice van de Sanden?
Haha, you tell me! Shanice wasn’t there in Portugal. We couldn’t race each other so I couldn’t tell you.
Take us through a typical day for you
Let’s take a Monday for example. I start my day at 7:00 o’clock. Take a shower, eat and go to school from 9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Then I drive to the gym. We train with our physical trainer from 1:15 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. I eat something. Then we have 1 hour to drive to the club. At 3:30 p.m., we start our second training on the pitch. We’re done between 4:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. Afterward, I go shower, drive home, and cook. I eat between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. and then it’s time to relax or I do some homework.
I’ve seen on Instagram you have a slight obsession with shoes. How did this happen?
Haha true! I definitely blame my uncle and his girlfriend for this. They love sneakers. They have so many! And the way the combine them with each other and their clothes made me love sneakers too. I just took it a bit too far I think haha.
Do you have a favorite shoe or brand of shoes?
My favorite brand is Nike and my favorite shoes are the Jordan 1, Jordan 3 and Nike Airmax.
What are some of your hobbies?
I love to write songs. Whatever I’m doing, I’m always making music; beatboxing, singing, rapping, drumming. I like slamming on everything that makes noise haha
Are you in school? And if so, what are you studying?
Yes, I’m in school. I study Marketing and Communication at the Johan Cruyff College in Enschede.
Who is your favorite Dutch men’s club?
My favorite Dutch men’s club must be Ajax! I was born in Amsterdam so yeah. Oh and the way the beat Real Madrid makes everyone an Ajax fan haha.
Who is your favorite Dutch player, men’s and women’s?
My favorite Dutch player is Steven Bergwijn. He is really fast and very technical. And for the women, I would say Jackie Groenen. She is not that tall but so she is really strong and gives amazing passes.
Who is your favorite player in your position?
Definitely Neymar. He brings street football to the pitch. I love that. The way he uses his skills and tricks to entertain the crowd but also be effective. I can watch his videos all day.
Do you follow the NWSL? Would you be open to playing in our league in America?
I admit I don’t really watch this league and I never say never about playing in America. But, for now, I’d rather play football in Europe
Who are you rooting for in the World Cup in France?
The Netherlands of course! Go Oranjeleeuwinnen!
You can follow her on Instagram and follow her club team FC Twente Vrouwen. Remember that name, Ashleigh Weerden. There’s no doubt in my mind she’ll be nutmegging folks on the world stage before long.
Cover Photo: Hakim Wright