I often talk to people about the differences between men’s and women’s soccer. Let me start by saying that the difference in quality is absolutely not what I want to discuss today. Not only do I think enough has been said about that (also by yours truly), but I also think that discussion is not particularly interesting. Today I want to talk about the difference in mentality between male soccer players and their female colleagues. In my opinion, one of the growing pains in women’s soccer is a huge lack of arrogance. That might sound crazy, but let me explain.
There’s only one Zlatan
Being the avid Sweden-lover and soccer fanatic that I am, it was of course impossible for me to ignore Zlatan Ibrahimović’s biography. As a down-to-earth Dutch or Belgian person it might be hard to imagine that an entire country can revolve around a single person, but the situation in Sweden comes pretty close. Example: when I go to Aftonbladet’s website, one of the biggest national newspapers, under the subheading ‘soccer’, I can choose various categories. First up are the national men’s and women’s sides (do you hear that, international media? The two are listed beside each other, as if they are equally important!), then the Allsvenskan and Damallsvenskan (the highest soccer leagues for men and women), followed by the Premier League, Bundesliga and Ligue 1, and then ‘Zlatan’. Yep. You read that correctly. Under this subheading all the news about the country’s Most Important Citizen is collected, for your convenience.
Whenever you talk about Zlatan, you often talk about his arrogance, which is hard to ignore (or ‘healthy self-confidence’, as he likes to call it). ‘An injured Zlatan is a serious situation for every team,’ he states in his book. An attitude that we in Holland, where we take pride in being phlegmatic, of course think is completely atrocious. But today I’d like to make a case in favour of this arrogance, especially with regards to the female soccer players in the Netherlands.
In Swedish, there’s a beautiful word to describe Zlatan’s never-ending self-love. ‘Kaxig‘, they call it. It’s hard to translate correctly, but it’s a little bit of a mix between ‘spoiled’, ‘arrogant’, and ‘cheeky’. The ‘I don’t give a shit’-attitude. And I think this is exactly what women’s soccer needs.
What can regularly be seen on soccer pitches (be warned, what follows now is a huge generalisation), is that male soccer players too often go for their own glory. ‘He’s a pretty decent player, but he needs to learn that he’s not alone on the pitch’, I’ve heard youth trainers say about their boys. The opposite is often true for (young) female players: they would rather pass the ball to a teammate when they’re standing in front of an open net in stead of shooting the ball in the goal. A lot of scientific research could be done about why this difference exists, but I think a lot of people that have seen women’s soccer can affirm this statement. It’s the ‘no, you do it!’-mentality that can keep female players from really reaching the very highest level. It’s all just a little bit too kind and nice.
‘Kaxig’, in moderation
This is why I am calling for a culture shift in women’s soccer. Of course, the kindness and innocence is what keeps the sport so cozy and accessible, but I’m also worried that it is keeping women from taking the qualitative jump that women’s soccer so deserves. Female players in Holland and Belgium, be more ‘kaxig‘, from time to time. Take that shot on goal, in stead of the eternal side pass. Pretend like you’re alone on the pitch sometimes. Feel like you’re The World’s Greatest. Everything in moderation, of course, that goes without saying. But I’m curious to see what kinds of heights women’s soccer could reach if more and more players really started to believe in their own abilities.
Thanks for reading, talk soon! 🙂