Eletiofe Izzy Christiansen: 'It's really important that we are role...

Izzy Christiansen: ‘It’s really important that we are role models’

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zzy Christiansen is used to being on the frontline. She knows so much about living with relentless pressure that making significant, split‑second decisions comes as second nature. It is all just another part of her job as an Everton and England player.

For the moment, though, there are no adrenaline highs, no trophies to pursue and no need to provide constant proof she deserves her place in the starting lineup. On one level, lockdown has been immensely frustrating but it has also afforded the 28-year-old midfielder time to reflect on a renewed love for the game and a new-found determination to promote social justice.

On Friday, Christiansen joins Common Goal. It is a collective social-impact movement enabling anyone involved in the world game to donate at least 1% of their salary to a network of football-based community projects supporting young people in more than 90 countries.

Of the 153 players and managers signed up – Juan Mata and Jürgen Klopp included – more than 50% are female. Considering the often vast gender disparity in salaries, that represents quite a statement.

As Christansen sits at home, addressing a Zoom-linked computer screen against a backdrop of French art before preparing to head out for one-to-one training with a conditioning coach, she looks anything but surprised. “It’s really important to women footballers that we’re role models,” she says. “It gives you an insight into the type of people we are. We’ve fought battles throughout our careers to change perceptions. Common Goal is so relevant to us.”

The sincerity radiating through the screen emphasises this is not virtue signalling, a point reinforced when it becomes apparent her desire to support sanitation projects in developing countries is intensely personal.

Her younger sister, Rosie, a recently graduated medical student in Glasgow, is working long, stressful hours on hospital wards as part of the first of two foundation years prefacing qualification as a doctor.

“My sister did a master’s degree in tropical medicine and came back from Africa with some incredible insights,” Christiansen says. “It sparked my interest in Common Goal projects and how they can help sanitation across the world. In poorer countries sanitation is massive – and not just in the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while but lockdown has give me time to both assess what I want and to live a different way.”

It has also left her missing Rosie horribly. “It’s been really difficult to support her. She’s on her own, a long way away and working long shifts. It’s difficult for me because she’s a very close friend, not just a sister. She’s on the frontline, doing an amazing job.”

Christiansen must wait to return to centre stage after a disappointment-punctuated year. A treble winner with Lyon in 2019, she sat out last summer’s World Cup in France after fracturing a fibula and damaging ankle ligaments in March of that year. In December she joined Everton as very much Willie Kirk’s marquee signing only for the pandemic to bring an end to the WSL season.

The irony is that, after a tough induction at Lyon when she briefly considered quitting football, the Birmingham University sports science graduate has fallen in love with the game again.

Norway’s Ada Hegerberg helped Christiansen through the dark days and the Lyon striker has influenced her Common Goal decision. “I’m the first Everton player to join so I’d like to think it can set an example to my teammates because football’s a really powerful tool for change,” she says.

“Ada’s someone I look up to; she’s not afraid to speak up and fight for what she believes in. I’ve always had a voice, I just haven’t necessarily had the confidence to use it. But now I think that if you believe in something or can contribute to change for the better then it’s important to speak up. As footballers, we’re in a very privileged position. People look up to us. We have to make sure we deliver key messages.”

Hegerberg taught her to overcome self-consciousness. “I don’t really know why I wasn’t confident before; it was probably fear of what people might think or say,” says Christiansen. “Or how it might get perceived in the media. But it’s just having that flick of the switch to understand you’re not going to please everybody but you have to fight for what you believe in. You can always stand by your morals.”

She cannot wait for football to return. “The days are just drifting by, I don’t know where they’re going – I haven’t even watched much TV,” she says. “I’m doing a lot of dog walking, a lot of reading.”

Christiansen remains optimistic the previously burgeoning women’s game will recover strongly from the coronavirus-induced pause. “WSL players are world-class, teams are getting stronger and everyone’s hunger and excitement about returning will naturally increase the league’s level,” she says. “In some ways, we could end up looking back on this time of self-reflection as a blessing in disguise.

“But I’m constantly looking ahead now. I can’t wait to get back to training, to a normal routine and weekend fixtures. When it’s taken away, you realise how much you miss it.”

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