Jackie Groenen in action for Manchester United Women.

Groenen: We've built a great team

Jackie Groenen has quickly become a fans' favourite since joining United last summer and the feeling seems to be mutual.

She recently sat down with us to discuss life at United and how much she is enjoying life at the club...

Talk us through your first few months at the club, Jackie...
I’m really happy. I like the atmosphere and the fans, and the mentality we have. I feel like, ever since I arrived here, I’ve been getting better every single day. That’s what I’m aiming for and it makes me very happy. The team we’ve built has been great and I love coming into training every morning.

What’s it’s like living in Manchester?
I like doing a lot of sightseeing, but we don’t have too many days off! I’ve been to see the Northern Quarter, which is really funky, and I like it. It has history and nice coffee shops, which really speaks to my way of living. I’ve really enjoyed it here up until now, but I honestly can’t get used to the weather! It goes up and down really quickly. When it rains here, it pours! It’s not just rain... you drown! But I’ve settled in well. I like the mentality – people are very friendly and accommodating in the north, which feels very welcoming.

We've noticed you waving to people in the crowd. Do your family come over to visit often?
My parents come over basically every weekend to see the games, so I don’t have to miss them that much. Everyone wants to come and watch United play, so sometimes I feel a bit like a ticket seller! But it’s been great. Everyone’s very excited and wants to come and see me in a Manchester United shirt.

Where have you been taking them in Manchester?
My dad loves architecture so I took him to the John Rylands Library. My friends have been with me to the Northern Quarter and we went Christmas shopping, things like that. It’s been a bit of everything when people have been coming over, which is good for me because it means I get to do a bit of sightseeing as well.

What’s the perception of the club back home?
Obviously, Manchester United is seen as one of the world’s biggest clubs. When I came here people were very excited. They’re interested in every single thing – the pitch we play on, the stadium we play in. It’s massive. I think I’ve created a new Dutch fan base for the club now. It’s very big in the Netherlands, and everywhere else.

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What’s Casey Stoney like as a manager?
I really appreciate her. The best way to describe her is honest. You always know where you are, which I appreciate a lot. Sometimes it can be hard to take but it makes you a better player. Working with her has made me better and you want to do what she tells you because she is someone you want to follow. One of the biggest things about being a coach is getting your players to respect you, because when they do, it works.

Are there any players from your time at Chelsea who you’re still in touch with?
It’s been five years since I was there [from February 2014-June 2015] so the players and the team have changed a lot, but obviously there are still a couple of the girls I used to play with, like Ji So-yun in midfield. I’ve always rated her as a player.

After leaving Chelsea in 2015 you spent four years in Germany before joining United. Had you been hoping to come back to England?
I did miss the English enthusiasm, when it comes to football. It’s a big football country and very football-minded. I missed the passion of the games and of the fans, so I’m very happy to be back here playing again.

Is the style of play as you remembered it?
Women’s football has developed a lot here. It’s much less kick-and-rush compared to what it used to be. There’s a lot more technical ability. It’s good to see how far it has come in the last five years – not just on the pitch but also in terms of coverage. It’s taken massive steps and it’s nice to see how much it has grown.

What’s it like moving to a club that’s still so new?
It was a bit of a gamble and a risk, which obviously comes with joining a new team. To me, I always saw it as something fresh and exciting. I’m very upbeat about it. When we achieve things, it’s new, and that’s a nice thing to be a part of.
You’ve got plenty of big-game experience to call upon, including a World Cup semi-final last year, of course. Is that something you can pass on to the other players in the squad?
I hope so. I’ve had some big games in the past few years and I think I can help the other girls with advice on how to stay calm and relax and deal with the tension. I hope I can help to manage the game so that it can go our way.

On the international stage, how special was last year’s World Cup semi-final, when you scored the winning goal, and the tournament as a whole?
It’s been really great. I didn’t really have time to look back at anything before the winter break, but I’ve had time for things to settle down now. The World Cup was a great moment in my career. I’m very proud I got to be there and do things for my country. I always love playing for my country and I also love being at United.

Your biggest success to date has been winning Euro 2017, and it sounds like you’re hungry to pick up another piece of silverware with United...
Yes – a lot more than I thought I’d be. I started playing football because I wanted to enjoy it. I never really thought about winning trophies. That wasn’t the biggest thing to me. But I’m very exited to be at United because this is a club that will go on to win a lot of trophies and a lot of games. I hope I can help make a start on that.

Away from football, you’ve also had some success with judo...
A while back! I did it until I was 16. I won a national championship and participated in a European one. It was very nice to do and it can be good for footballers. It really helped me to learn about timing and using my body at the right time. It’s been really big in my career, helping me in one-on-ones. I’d recommend it.

You’ve also studied for a law degree – is that something you’re interested in pursuing after football?
Maybe. It’s more about security and having a back-up in case things don’t go the way you want. It would be nice to focus on something else after football. It’s a way to create something for when other things finish.

This interview first appeared in the MU Women v Chelsea (League Cup) programme, 29 January 2020.

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