Jill Roord Believes Olympic Place Is In Dutch Hands Ahead Of Wembley Showdown

This week at Wembley Stadium, in front of an expected sell-out crowd, the last two European champions face-off to stay in the hunt for a place at the Olympics and Manchester City’s new Dutch signing Jill Roord will be aiming to knock England out of the race.

Only the winner of their UEFA Nations League group can progress to the competition’s final stages in February and with it, the opportunity to claim one of Europe’s three allocated places, alongside hosts France, at the Women’s Football Tournament during the Paris Olympic Games. Having already lost 2-1 away to the Netherlands in Utrecht, England know they must defeat the Dutch on Friday to have any chance of qualifying.

Roord is one of seven English-based players in the Netherlands’ squad who will travel to London this week on top of the group and knowing if they win both their remaining games, they will qualify for the first-ever women’s Nations League finals. “I think it’s all in our hands definitely,” she told me. “We win twice and we’re there. At the same time, I also think anything can happen. It’s very tight, it’s going to be two massive games for us, starting with the England game. After that game, we will see what we need and where we are at.”

Both the Netherlands and England have experience of winning the UEFA Women’s Euro and reaching the final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup final under Dutchwoman Sarina Wiegman, the current coach of England. However, for all the Netherlands’ achievements they will have never played in front of such a large crowd as is expected at Wembley Stadium where over 70,000 tickets have been sold and the attendance could end up close to the 90,000 capacity.

All of the Dutch players expect Roord – and former Wolfsburg team-mate Dominque Janssen – who played in front of a world record crowd of 91,648 against FC Barcelona at Camp Nou in the semi-final of the UEFA Women’s Champions League in April 2022. Although the result was a crushing 5-1 defeat for the German champions, Roord showed her appetite for the big occasion by scoring Wolfsburg’s consolation goal.

“I remember from that game in Camp Nou, that was intimidating. At the same time, I think we’ve a lot of experienced players in our team. Our national team, we like the pressure. We almost kind of like it when everyone is against us, it gives us a bit of fire. I don’t think it’s going to be a problem. I hope it’s going to give us extra energy, extra motivation. We’re in a really good position and we’re really looking forward to that game.”

In September, the Dutch defeated England by twice forcing them into mistakes close to their own goal, something that Roord tells me is the way the Netherlands want to play. “We are a team that want to press, we don’t want to sit back and wait, we want to take initiative. In the first game that went really well, but obviously our press needs to be perfect.”

Added to that is the tantalizing prospect of the return to international action of the Netherlands’ all-time leader goalscorer, Vivianne Miedema, someone who Roord has linked up with since they played together in various national youth teams. “Obviously we missed her, she’s a massive player for us. There’s no question she’s one of the best in the world, she is very “football intelligent”, she knows where the space is so, yeah, I always love playing with her.”

Roord represented the Dutch at the last Olympics, but, like all competing athletes in 2021, her experience was diminished by the Covid-restrictions in place at the time. It is something that she hopes can be rectified by qualifying for the Paris Games.

“Obviously going there to Tokyo was special anyway but I think if we would qualify for the Olympics this time, it would be a totally different tournament which I would be really looking forward to. In 2021, we did not get to see any other sports, we didn’t get to see any other people. We weren’t allowed to go outside the hotel. There were no spectators in the stadium so I really hope we can experience that.”

Roord is the daughter of parents who both represented their country at youth level. Her mum played basketball and father René went to the FIFA u20 World Cup in 1983, playing in Mexico alongside future senior European Champions like Gerald Vanenburg, Johnny van’t Schip and Marco van Basten. 14 years later, Jill was born and followed in her father’s footsteps by representing FC Twente of Enschede, the city in which the young Roord won the UEFA Women’s Euro in 2017.

Roord explained to me how much she learned from her dad. “Of course we talked about his career a lot and football in general. I’ve asked him many times if we were similar players! I think he was left-footed – I’m right-footed – but in some things we are similar. Also our character, he says we are very similar. Other than that, he was a bit more fast and direct, sometimes also a winger. I’m more a midfielder.”

René now works as a Technical Director at FC Twente and even though Jill left six years ago to pursue a career abroad, he is still always there to offer advice to his daughter. “I grew up like that,” she tells me. “It’s also something, I’ve always asked for. It’s not always easy but at the same time, I think it’s been very helpful, made me tough and still does.”

“I think nowadays, he doesn’t have to say it too much, I know when I played good or not. I know when he’s going to say something like ‘oh you should have finished there, or you should have been more aggressive’, so the conversations, they are not that long, but it’s good to always hear his feedback.”

After two-year spells at FC Bayern, Arsenal and VfL Wolfsburg, Roord returned to England this summer, moving to Manchester City for a fee reported to be $380,000 (€350,000). Roord still had a year left on her contract at Wolfsburg and their Sporting Director Ralf Kellermann revealed that she had also asked to be transferred the previous summer, eventually acceding to her “renewed request” to leave this year.

Roord admits to me that she had the opportunity to join FC Barcelona in 2022. “That was the year before, that Barcelona wanted me, and Wolfsburg they did not want to let me go and I accepted that, because that’s how football works.” Roord stayed to win another German Cup at Wolfsburg and reach the UEFA Women’s Champions League final where they were ironically, once more, defeated by Barcelona.

“I think, we as a team, had a very good season in my second year and at some point (Manchester) City came. I kept it pretty open. I didn’t make up my mind until the end of the season. To be honest, I told them that I was very interested in City and that I’d like to go, but at the same time it was not my call, The negotiations were between City and Wolfsburg and that worked out.”

Having joined Wolfsburg for $109,000 (€100,000) in 2021, Roord’s career transfer fees have totaled close to $500,000 making her the second most expensive female player in the world, behind only her direct opponent at Wembley on Friday, England’s Keira Walsh. Despite her value to her employers, Roord remains unconcerned about the scale of her transfer fees.

“Actually, I read it probably like you, online. Obviously, I don’t put my focus on that. To me, it doesn’t say a lot. Obviously, it’s a proud moment that I’m being sold anyway, that City really wants me. I think that’s, for me, the proudest moment. Other than that, how expensive I was, for me, it doesn’t really matter.”

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