Sunday 12 August 2018, 21:59

Rapinoe: I want to leave the game and the world in a better place

  • Megan Rapinoe nominated for The Best FIFA Women's Player for first time

  • World Cup champion speaks exclusively with about nomination

  • "I was a little surprised, to be honest!"

Megan Rapinoe has been a household name in women’s football for a decade. At the age of 33, she was nominated for The Best FIFA Women’s Player award, the top individual award in the women's game. The most experienced player in this year’s list of candidates, the California native is playing some of her best football yet.

Having faced adversity in the shape of an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear in late 2015, the third such injury of her career, Rapinoe has evolved as a player, In doing so, she has shown her ability to adapt to a new style of play - testament to her high football IQ and determination to excel.

We caught up with Rapinoe in an exclusive interview to get insight into why she is thriving at this stage of her career and to learn more about her journey to the top. What was your reaction to being named a nominee for The Best FIFA Women’s Player 2018 award, and what does the nomination mean to you? Megan Rapinoe: A little surprised to be honest, not because I don’t think I’m a good player but surprising. I’m obviously very honoured and humbled by it. Yeah, it made me smile. I think for any player who’s put in a lot of work and always striving to be the best, whether you are the best or not kind of doesn’t matter, it really shouldn’t change your outlook on things. I think everyone should try to be as good as they can. A little acknowledgement is always nice.

What does it mean to you to be playing at such a high level at this point of your career and to still be at the top? That is very special. It’s special to be able to be playing better than I’ve ever played, being a little bit older and being in the tenth year of my career or so. I think especially because I was coming off an incredible 2015 and feeling like I was playing as good as I’ve ever played, and to have an ACL injury at that stage of your career, at that age and that particular time, having the Olympics, making it back to the Olympics but being sort of a shell of myself and the team not doing that well.

I never had the feeling that I was uncertain that I would get back to playing, but I think it would be normal to think that and normal to wonder what level I was going to back to, so to see all the hard work and how the private moments pay off, not only for me but for all of the people that have been involved - my family, my coaches, my closest friends, my girlfriend - for them to be a part of that as well and know what I’ve gone through and how hard I’ve worked to get to the place that I am, that part is very special for me.

Why are you playing better than you ever have? What do you put it down to? As you get older as a player, there comes a point when it changes; you can’t do what you did when you were 22 to 26 years old. Sometimes it comes quickly and sometimes you kind of can’t see it coming or you start to get a little injured. I would never say I was lucky to tear my ACL, but I think that came at the moment that my body was also changing as well, so it was kind of an opportunity to completely hit this reset. As I was coming back from my ACL and during that first year of my rehab, I could tell that my body was different. Even when I first came back, I was trying to do the same things and it just wasn’t having the exact same results. I think I realised in that moment that I have to change, I have to do more.

I also focussed a lot more on my preparation, my nutrition, my strength training and doing all of the little things off the field that could potentially have an impact on the field, and I think those are the things that have made the biggest difference for me.

How would you describe your evolution tactically and technically? It seems like you’re an all-around attacker now? I try to make zero negative runs during the game, but I have to make a few! (laughs) The style change in both the teams [has impacted that]; traditionally for most of my career with the national team we played a 4-4-2 and only in the last couple of years we changed to more of a 4-3-3. So I’m an attacker, a winger and striker, basically. I think putting me higher on the field and alleviating some of those defensive duties, it puts me closer to the goal and I think the closer I am to the goal, the better, the more dangerous I can be, the more I can bring people in and the more I can create trouble for the defence.

How does it feel to know that you are already a role model to a lot of people? I mean, it feels pretty cool to be honest. Looking back at my whole life and going to the 1999 World Cup and meeting a few of those players and being star struck, and then going to the arc of my career and seeing where the game has come and how this team has been a part of that and how I’ve been able to be a part of that - going to the games now with sellout crowds, the game is so huge and our league is great - I take a step back and I’m just living my dream.

It sounds so cliched but I feel so thankful and so lucky that I’m able to do this and have been able to be a part of such an incredible national team with all the things we’ve done on and off the field, and the success we’ve had and the things that we’ve gone through, and the way that we have impacted the game and are continuing to impact the game. Those are all some of the most rewarding things from my career. Of course the medals, wins and World Cups are incredible but I think when I look back at the things that are so meaningful forever, that also will be the impact that we’ve been able to have off the field as well.

What do you want your legacy to be? I feel too young for the legacy question! But I guess I’m getting old, so I have to accept that. I want people to remember me on the field as they do off it - someone who was passionate and lived with joy and happiness, who gave everything, was a good team-mate, who loved the game and tried to play it the right way and really enjoyed every minute I was able to play.

[I want to be remembered as] someone who was willing to stand up for what was right and stand up for important things and used the platform that we’re very lucky to have and the popularity that we’re very lucky to have to try to not only make the game better and leave the game in a better place, but also just in general to make the world a better place and to try to use that leverage and that platform that we have to do that.

Video produced by U.S. Soccer