I can follow Bale’s example with Wales

  • Jess Fishlock is the NWSL’s top player and Wales’ most capped woman

  • The 35-year-old midfielder is desperate to cap off her illustrious career with a FIFA Women’s World Cup™

  • She explains why this Welsh side are ‘better equipped than ever’ to qualify

She is the reigning NWSL MVP and one of the few players to win UEFA Women’s Champions League winners’ medals at separate clubs.

She has been league champion in four different countries, has a record number of caps and has even been honored at Buckingham Palace for her colossal contributions to football and the LGBT community.

Jess Fishlock has achieved everything she could wish for, hasn’t she? “Bad” is the definitive answer, and Fishlock herself will be the first to tell you. For all of these aforementioned outstanding accomplishments, and more, this wildly successful 35-year-old cannot be entirely satisfied. Contentment will only come, she says FIFA+when she steps out with Wales on the biggest stage of them all.

“I’m very grateful for the career I’ve had,” she explained, “but it would live with me forever if I wasn’t able to go to a major tournament with my country. J gave so much, every girl on this team did, and we’ve all been chasing it for so long.

“Wales will qualify for a tournament soon, I’m sure. But if I were to end my career without being part of us to make one, it would be a huge regret.

The best yetHer itch will not be scratched at the upcoming UEFA Women’s EURO. A 15th consecutive qualifying failure ended hopes there, leaving Fishlock’s attention firmly fixed on Australia and New Zealand in 2023.

With Wales well placed to claim a play-off spot and reassured to see the country’s men end a long wait for the FIFA World Cup™, Fishlock sees history calling.

“I think we’re pretty close,” said the midfielder, who plays at her home soccer club for Seattle side OL Reign. “We have massive games coming up in September against Slovenia and Greece (two and three points respectively behind Wales in a section that France have already qualified for). But we are now well placed and better equipped than ever.

“What has really helped is the wider growth of women’s football. The vast majority of our players are now playing full-time or at least semi-professional, and that experience of training every day, learning what it takes to be ‘elite’ really helps. As a group we are much better prepared physically, mentally and emotionally for international football. They are by far the best team in Wales I have been in involved.

“The way we have to get to the World Cup is so difficult. But I believe we have a team that is composed the same as the men’s team: strong defensively, good in attack and with a great base.

“The characteristics of how we play are also similar, and we’re looking at the same route to getting to the World Cup via the play-offs. It’s just a case of, ‘Can we cross that line like they did? ?’ And I think we are made for the kind of challenges that come our way.

“The men who traveled to Qatar gave us even more inspiration. I really cannot stress enough how exciting it is for all of us and how huge the impact will be if they get there.

chasing the same dreamGareth Bale was, as ever, a talismanic figure in the latest Welsh men’s success story. And if you see any parallels in the story of an aging icon who broke national records, won everything there is to win at club level, but was desperate to fill a Cup-shaped hole in the world in his distinguished career, you are not alone.

“I see myself very similar to Gareth in that we’re both getting older and we’re at the stage of finding what we’re still playing for and what we still want to accomplish,” Fishlock said. “And for both of us, it was the same thing: a World Cup with Wales.

“Gareth was able to do that, which is sensational, and he fully deserves it. Now it’s up to us, and if you talk to the girls who have played in the national team for a long time, that’s what we want more. than anything. That’s one of the main reasons we keep going.”

Fishlock has extra motivation to add a World Cup to his stellar CV. After all, while she and Bale have a lot in common, one significant difference is that the latter has become a household name largely thanks to his club exploits.

In women’s football, and despite the rise of national leagues around the world, this remains almost impossible. The result is that Fishlock and players like her – deprived of the star of major tournaments – find that their profiles invariably do not reflect their talent.

“It’s true, and it’s not just me,” she said. “I say this about a lot of Welsh girls, or players from other smaller nations, that their profile would be much higher if they were French, American, English or Spanish.

“We’re not talked about enough, and the reason we don’t is because we’re Welsh. It was the same with players like Kim (Little, another NWSL MVP whose international career with Scotland included a lone major). Kim has been one of the best in the world, forever, and there was a time when she was the best bar none. But she never got the recognition she deserves from the rest of the world.

“I also see it with our daughters and it’s frustrating because I know they deserve more. But I also know that none of us would change that. We love our countries, and meeting these challenges makes things better. all the more special when we achieve something.

returning queenAn outspoken advocate with a passion for social justice – to the extent that she has admitted to “envisaging” a post-playing career in politics – Fishlock is also aware of the “great” platform a World Cup would provide to advance causes close to his heart. .

Until at least September, however, the priority will be propelling Reign up the NWSL standings and showing why she was crowned the league’s MVP.

“I much prefer team success and trophies, but any time you get accolades like that, it’s really nice,” she said of her MVP award. “I’ve been here almost ten years and I’ve been pretty consistent. But to win this award in the year we had, after my ACL injury, was huge for me. It meant a lot.

“When you come back from an injury like that you wonder if you’re going to be the same player – there are always doubts in your mind. So to come back like I did and finish the season as a MVP was very, very special.

Fishlock has shown that, even in her mid-thirties, she remains one of the greatest footballers of her generation. If she can help Wales achieve their fondest dream, the Women’s World Cup will certainly be enriched by the presence of this venerable veteran.

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