‘Best player in the world? I want to be best ever!’

The Football League Paper - - WOMEN'S FOOTBALL WEEKLY - By Kieran Theivam

CARLI LLOYD may have scored the fastest hat­trick in the history of the World Cup fi­nal as the USA lifted the tro­phy, but she’s not about to let the at­ten­tion change her.

“I’ll re­main an un­der­dog for the rest of my ca­reer and prob­a­bly the rest of my life,” she says as she con­ducts her latest in­ter­view since lift­ing the World Cup in Van­cou­ver on July 5.

But make no mis­take, this is no false mod­esty from the 33-year-old New Jersey-born midfielder, who al­ready had two Olympic gold medals to her name be­fore run­ning riot in this year’s World Cup fi­nal.

It’s an at­ti­tude that has seen Lloyd fight back from mul­ti­ple set­backs to be­come one of the most com­plete play­ers ever to take the field in the women’s game.

Not only did she al­most sin­gle-hand­edly tear apart the Ja­panese de­fence in Van­cou­ver to help her side tri­umph 5-2, but she scored in ev­ery knock­out round of the com­pe­ti­tion to help the US write its own chap­ter af­ter wait­ing 16 years to re­peat the suc­cess of the team that pre­vailed in 1999.

Lloyd puts this men­tal strength down to two things.

One, the count­less hours she has ded­i­cated to her game to make her one of the most feared box-to-box mid­field­ers in the world. And two, her men­tor and friend, James Gala­nis.

Aus­tralian-born Gala­nis is di­rec­tor of New Jersey-based soc­cer school Uni­ver­sal Soc­cer Academy, and 12 years ago he set out to make Lloyd one of the best play­ers in the world when she, in his words, “wasn’t phys­i­cally fit and wasn’t men­tally tough”. Ever since, he has been her go-to guy on an al­most daily ba­sis, es­pe­cially dur­ing the World Cup when the Hous­ton Dash midfielder had no fam­ily to speak to.

“I pretty much banned my friends, fam­ily and fi­ancé from com­ing to the World Cup, and it worked, be­cause it al­lowed me to fo­cus,” says Lloyd.

“James and I speak on an al­most daily ba­sis, whether that’s by text or email. He emailed me be­fore the fi­nal and told me this was my chance to show the world what I’m made of.”

Lloyd has had her fair share of ob­sta­cles to over­come in her ca­reer, in­clud­ing miss­ing a penalty in the shoot-out de­feat to Ja­pan in the 2011 World Cup fi­nal and start­ing the 2012 Lon­don Olympic tour­na­ment on the bench af­ter los­ing her place in the team prior to the com­pe­ti­tion.

But ask the 2015 Golden Ball win­ner how she was feel­ing af­ter an in­dif­fer­ent group phase in Canada for the even­tual cham­pi­ons, and the re­sponse might sur­prise you.

“Be­lieve it or not, I was in a bad place and was prob­a­bly at an all-time low, it was worse than be­ing benched at the 2012 Olympics,” she says.

Con­fi­dence

“I couldn’t have been more pre­pared for this event. You go in there and you en­vis­age it’s go­ing to start off a cer­tain way, and when it doesn’t, it al­most feels like you’ve failed and have dis­ap­pointed peo­ple.

“I’m very hard on my­self, I take re­spon­si­bil­ity for how the team plays if I’m not play­ing well, and this fear of mak­ing mis­takes just trick­led through me with each group stage game.”

This was a real test for USA’s Num­ber 10, who ad­mits Gala­nis helped her through the cri­sis of con­fi­dence, be­fore she re­ceived the boost she needed when scor­ing in the win against Colom­bia in the last-16.

It was here, as has been shown in pre­vi­ous tour­na­ments, that Lloyd came into her own, bag­ging the win­ner against China in the quar­ter-fi­nals, be­fore coolly slot­ting home a penalty in the 2-0 semi-fi­nal win over Ger­many.

“It’s crazy how the mind works and how tour­na­ments are – it’s not how you start, it’s how you fin­ish,” adds Lloyd.

“By the time the fi­nal ar­rived, noth­ing was go­ing to get in my way be­cause I wanted to win so badly and would do any­thing it takes to get the job done.”

The 13-minute hat-trick that helped put her side 4-0 up in­side 20 min­utes left even the most diehard USA fan pick­ing their jaw up from the floor, but see­ing a free-flow­ing Lloyd in a ma­jor fi­nal is now not so much of a sur­prise.

At the Bei­jing Olympics in 2008 she scored the game-win­ning goal in ex­tra-time in the gold medal match against Brazil, be­fore scor­ing twice in a 2-1 win against Ja­pan in front of a Wem­b­ley crowd of 80,000 at Lon­don 2012.

That makes it six goals in four ma­jor fi­nals, with the only blip the penalty shoot-out de­feat to Ja­pan in 2011.

So just how does she take her game to the next level to en­sure she is an in­flu­ence on a team that is over­whelmed with tal­ent, when it re­ally mat­ters – in a ma­jor fi­nal?

“It’s about prepa­ra­tion and push­ing your body be­yond lim­its that are al­most unimag­in­able,” she says.

“There is no way that when I started out on this jour­ney that I would have imag­ined be­ing able to do the run­ning that I have been, and con­quer­ing the chal­lenges I have up to now.

“It’s know­ing that I have an ex­tra edge over ev­ery­body. My body gets bet­ter with ev­ery game that I play, and in that fi­nal I was still able to run when ev­ery­one else was tired.”

Lloyd re­veals that there have been peo­ple along the way who have “wanted me to fail and have con­stantly doubted me”, which has given her that ex­tra drive to prove them wrong.

But it is her own per­sonal goals and her de­sire to reach the top, which con­tinue to push and en­cour­age her to play the role of the un­der­dog.

“There’s no other way, be­cause there’s so many things that I need to im­prove on and I will im­prove on,” Lloyd con­cluded.

“I don’t just want to be­come the best in the world. I want to be the best player ever, and in or­der to do that you have to keep climb­ing the lad­der and not al­low your­self to get wrapped up in any of your past ac­com­plish­ments.”

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Im­ages

HISTORY MAKER: Carli Lloyd roars with de­light af­ter scor­ing for the USA against Ja­pan in the World Cup fi­nal, be­fore the tro­phy pa­rade, inset bot­tom, and cel­e­brat­ing gold at the 2012 Lon­don Olympics with Hope Solo, inset top

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