Jack Groenen will admit it without further ado: he is the father of football fanatics. His father Jef played for Willem II. He made it into the Dutch lower leagues, but could never fulfill his imagination to wear Oranje in a big tournament.
About Jack Groenen
This dream, he decided, would be lived by his son, whom he would call Jack. Jack Groenen never arrived. Merel did it in mid-1993. Jackie followed 18 months later. After seeing Jack play in a match, Merel explained that she wanted to be a soccer player. Jackie, just three at the time, said she wanted the same thing.
Jack Groenen soon quit his job to focus on blooming his girls’ gifts. The sisters watched videos of Johan Cruyff and Dennis Bergkamp as their father drove them all over Belgium, where they grew up to play football. When relentless rain hindered her practice, Jack risked Ms. Lisette’s slip and built a six by five-meter playing field in the family home.
Was Jack’s slog justified? Well, Merel became a professional soccer player. Jackie made it even better. “I was sure that Jackie would be Olympic champion in 2016,” said her father.
Jackie played in the virtual playoffs for a spot at the women’s Olympic soccer tournament in Rio 2016. Vivianne Miedema had the Netherlands shortly before qualifying, but Olivia Schough’s equalization and Hedvig Lindahl’s remarkable reflexes silenced Rotterdam and Rotterdam through Sweden.
But not by orchestrating the game on the Maracana grass, Jack imagined Jackie would win gold, but by performing Ronda Rousey’s patented hip throws, downfalls, and hell gagging on Igusa straw tatamis. Jackie Groenen was indeed a five-time Dutch judo master and one of the best judokas in Europe.
Jackie has finally left judo to focus on soccer and is ready to finally take part in the Olympics next year.
You had the opportunity to pursue a career as a judo or soccer player. How difficult was this decision?
I always knew it would be soccer if I could do it in soccer. It is something that I grew up with that is more embedded in our family than judo. I started playing football when I was four. Judo was like a hobby that got out of control. But when I had to make the decision, it was very difficult for me because at the age of six I had been practicing with the same judo coach in the same clubs ten to twelve times a week.
We did very well, we won many titles and we made our way to the Olympic Games. When I had to say that I would not do it, it was really, really difficult for me because I felt like I was disappointing him. Deep down, I always knew it would be football, but I always hoped I could do both.
How would you compare your mindset, the nerves between going to tatami in judo, and leaving the tunnel to play football?
I think judo was a little more nerve-racking than soccer. With judo, you have to do everything yourself. You also realize before you hit the mat that one mistake can cost you the whole tournament. With football, you have the support of your teammates and you have more time.
if you fall 2-0 you can fix the problem. Judo was more stressful for me than football. And my parents say that too. You would see me fighting and be so nervous. I think judo prepared me to take part in the bigger games in football – the World Cup, the EURO – because I knew how to deal with pressure.
What did Sarina Wiegman say to Dutch players before the start of extra time for this World Cup?
She told us we had to stay calm because we were controlling the game at that point. We had some problems in the first half, Sweden had the upper hand, but in the second half. Before the referee gave the final whistle, he felt that a goal could be scored at any time.
It felt like we had more energy and strength to get through in the extension. She told us we should relax, continue what we are doing, and [the goal] would come. But I can’t remember everything she said because I was a little stressed and thirsty.
You mentioned that Sweden is at the top in the first half. What do you think of Sari van Veenendaal’s performance?
It was incredible. It was great throughout the tournament. She held us at the World Cup more than a few times. It was very important to us throughout the tournament, but especially in this game. Sweden had two or three really good chances in the first half and scored great saves.
You have scored only two goals in over 50 international matches. What went through your head when the ball fell on you pretty far out?
I didn’t really think about scoring a goal. It was just something that happened. The funny thing was that once I hit it, I knew it would go in. I don’t remember how it rolled into the net – I just knew it had gone in. Shooting from a distance it’s not really much in my game. I don’t score many goals. My role in the national team is very different. But it was something I had been working on before the World Cup and it was a good time to do it!
How did it feel?
It was different. It was very special for me and my family. Such a stadium, such an atmosphere. It’s really selfish, but I was hoping no one else would score! (laughs) Holland has so many players who win a match. I’m not used to it, so I wanted it to stay 1-0.
What do you think about the final?
It was a very difficult game for us. I think when they went 1-0, it kind of broke us. The whole tournament took a lot of energy away from us all – we had to dig deep and win a lot of games towards the end, we were in extra time against Sweden, we had a day less to recover – and when they scored, it was as if everyone had cramps.
We would normally say, “You have one, we score two”, but I think the effects of the tournament stopped us. I didn’t look back because I didn’t want it, so it’s hard for me to say anything special about it, but it was hard to bear. I think it will be good to look back and see what went wrong. Maybe I’ll do that after this call.
What did you think of the atmosphere in France 2019?
The tournament was crazy. The atmosphere was amazing. Especially for Holland. Many of the games we played, especially in the beginning, had so many fans. Dutch people only had to drive three or four hours to see the games. And our fans are so passionate. It felt like a home tournament again. The games got bigger, the stadiums got bigger, the atmosphere was really special. I’ll never forget it.
How excited are you to play at the Olympics?
I am very excited. I imagined participating in the Olympic Games so many times, but it was in judo. We had a plan. We worked towards the Olympic Games in Rio. I would have been a good age to compete in these Olympic games in judo. It will be very special to go to the Olympics in a different sport now.
Is the goal to win an Olympic medal or is the feeling after France 2019 “gold or nothing?”
We are a fairly down-to-earth country. Every time we go to a tournament we want to do our best and see where it ends. But I think after the last two tournaments – winning the EURO and second place in the World Cup – we want a medal. We have always been competitive, but I think once you win a tournament you want more. We want to go to the Olympics to show that we can play good football, but we also want to win.
USA are the favorites for Olympic gold. Do you think they are on a different level than the Netherlands or do you think you can keep up with them?
I’ve seen them play a lot and they have a great squad. But we’ve grown so much in recent years, and I really think we can keep up with them. I think the strength of our team is that we have so many players who are different, different styles, and complementary. I think our team is very strong.
When switching to club football, a picture of a young man in a Manchester United jersey can be seen?
I grew up with Manchester United. My mother works a lot abroad. When we were kids, there was a rule that if she went abroad, she had to bring a soccer jersey with her from everywhere. I have about 50 jerseys from different clubs in small kids’ sizes! Man U was the first, so there was one. I loved the shirt. I’ve worn it all day.
How did it feel to sign for Manchester United?
To be honest, it was just the best. It was a dream. I started following them as soon as they started in 2018, but I was under contract in Frankfurt and couldn’t really walk. When they contacted me, it was not a difficult decision to register.
How was your first year in the club?
I met so many cool people in the club and did so many cool things in the city. In terms of football, the best experience was the first time we beat Man City. It’s obviously a big game, it was really nice. We’re critical at Man U but we were happy to finish fourth in our first season [in the women’s Super League]. We’re on the right track, but I think if we don’t drop the few stupid points we lost last season, we can do even better next year. It is our goal to be at the top very soon.
Your Dutchman and you are wearing the No14 shirt.
I always watched football with my father and grandfather, and both of them were very impressed by Johan Cruyff. When I was young I had a lot of videos by Johan Cruyff, we watched his interviews, my father gave me books about him. I have so many books on Johan Cruyff. So he became someone I really looked up to.
When I signed my first contract in Germany, I chose No. 14 and never really played with another number after that. It’s definitely not that I’m comparing myself to him, but if you look up to someone and can wear the same number, you get a special feeling. Last year the Cruyff Foundation contacted me to see if I wanted to join.
I said, “Yes, yes!” But my management wanted to see what they were doing first. We looked at it and everything they do is so special. I am really glad that you asked me to participate. I can help the environment and people in Holland.