For Dominique Janssen, life as a professional football player has gone from strength to strength since joining Arsenal Ladies last summer.
An FA Cup medalist, a regular in Arsenal’s first team and a member of the Netherland’s 2015 World Cup squad, the past year has been quite the experience for the 21-year-old.
It was little more than one year ago that the Dutch defender was practising her trade with SGS Essen in Germany’s Frauen-Bundesliga where, as she admits, life failed to present her with the same challenges and opportunities as it has in England’s Women’s Super League (WSL).
“In Germany the players were going to school and they were still working so it was semi-professional and we were not earning enough to be full professional,” Janssen says.
“But now here at Arsenal we train in the afternoon so there's not a lot of time to do work or extra stuff besides football. So I think it's so much more professional here as we're living for the sport and train every day.
“In Germany, I really enjoyed it, but I think it's better today as it's more professional and that is exactly what I wanted and the opportunity to improve more and more and just play with better players.”
Although Janssen confesses that the move to Arsenal marked “quite a big step”, it’s certainly paid off. The youngster has thrived at the club and cites the side’s FA Cup victory last May as a particularly special moment.
“The FA Cup - that was a special experience for me. I think that's a very special moment playing at Wembley and even though I was starting on the bench, I came on and just played my game on the grass of Wembley - that was a highlight.”
Even so, the path to success hasn’t been an easy one. As with all professional football players, Janssen has spent her fair share of time on the bench - but she believes such an experience has helped her improve mentally as a player.
“Personally, I feel I’ve improved mentally because I've been on the bench a couple of times [at Arsenal] and before last season I almost played every game.
“There was one period, I think it was like two or three games, that I was being on the bench, and I just had to work on earning my position and think it's a good thing for a young player to earn their position.”
This sort of determination and resilience certainly helps set Dominique apart.
For many of the game’s elite, the setback of being dropped can often prove unsettling and even damaging to a player’s confidence. But as the defender makes clear, she’s willing to embrace such an experience and learn from it.
“I really feel it has made me mentally stronger, because I know in training you just have to give everything and also when you get the opportunity you just have to show what you've got.
“Of course I want to get better every single day, but sometimes you have to take one step back to take two steps forward - the struggle has to make you stronger and if it doesn't make you stronger than I don't know if you're in the right place.”
Her refreshing approach to the game is further evidenced by her willingness to go above and beyond what is expected of her in training.
She’ll often venture down to her local park prior to morning training in order to work on her technical skills - “just to make sure I’m ready for the training session that day”, as she casually puts it.
But as for the season so far, Janssen admits that “it’s not the best we’ve played”.
Currently sat third in the table on 26 points behind Chelsea and Manchester City ladies, and with only two games left to play, Arsenal face quite the challenge in securing Champions League football.
“Arsenal as a club is one who needs to play champions league,” she remarks. (Now, where have we heard that before?)
“Arsenal has to be in the number one or number two position every season and also fighting for the cups.
“I think it's not the best season Arsenal have played because if I see the history, they have won so many titles, it’s a big, big club.”
Indeed, Arsenal Ladies are the most successful club in English women’s football having won 43 major trophies to date, including two WSL titles, 14 FA Women’s Cups and one UEFA Women’s Champions League title. An impressive tally considering the club was formed in 1987.
So what does the future hold for the defender?
Janssen admits she wouldn’t be averse to the idea of one day making the move to America, as so many of Arsenal’s great female players have done in the past, including current player-coach Kelly Smith.
“I'd love to play there once…to know how the environment is, the atmosphere.
“But I’ m not sure I want to play there right now. I think in America it's very physical but here in England, and also Europe, I think it’s technically and tactically better.”
Whatever comes next for Dominique, it’s clear to see that the 21-year-old has a bright future ahead of her.
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