PHILADELPHIA — The true mark of a footballer is the journey along the way to growth and development to achieve that next level. It can be easy to settle into a familiar routine in a comfortable environment. England midfielder Izzy Christiansen faced that decision last summer.
Would she stay with Manchester City, the big club so close to where she was born, or take on a new challenge with Lyon, the creme de la creme of women’s football?
“I was in my comfort zone back in England,” Christiansen explained ahead of the SheBelieves Cup. “I was familiar with the environment. I grew up near Manchester. My friends are around there; it was easy. I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to take a big jump or stay put. I’m a very ambitious person.”
“I’m not really too concerned with what other people think. Yeah, I’m not an established world-class international, but I know who I am, and what I want to do in the game. I know the best of me is yet to come.”
On July 23, 2018, Christiansen signed a contract through to 2020 with Lyon, the three-time defending UEFA Champions League winners.
“I took the jump and it’s been tough,” she said. “It’s been really really tough, to be honest. Every day is tough. I don’t know anyone out there. You’re leaving your family, friends. You’re out on your own. That’s why I kind of know myself better, what makes me work and what doesn’t. I feel like as a footballer, I’m really benefiting.”
The 27-year-old Christiansen came through the youth systems of Manchester United and Everton, she spent five years with Birmingham City, but it wasn’t until 2010 when she signed with Manchester City. That’s where became a fixture in Nick Cushing’s starting lineup.
Christiansen scored 18 goals in 61 appearances for City. While most players would be chuffed to star with their hometown team, Christiansen wanted more, and Lyon came calling.
“I couldn’t believe it, really,” she said. “I’m sure a lot of people on the outside felt the same. I’m not really too concerned with what other people think. Yeah, I’m not an established world-class international, but I know who I am, and what I want to do in the game. I know the best of me is yet to come. I feel that now that I’m playing in such an uncomfortable environment, then the best of me will come. Playing up against these world-class midfielders every day, I’m like, ‘Why can’t I be one of those people?'”
At Lyon, Christiansen found that the women’s team is treated as equal to the men’s team. “Sometimes in England and perhaps abroad, you spend a lot of your energy and time finding that respect. At Lyon, it’s already there.” It’s clear to see why it is considered by many to be the top women’s club in the world.
“Sometimes when I’m having a bad day, I say, ‘this is it.’ I know my role,” Christiansen revealed. “I know why I signed. I know why they wanted to sign me, and I know where I am within the team. I have to keep reminding myself of that. It’s an incredible kind of club. The way in which I’ve been exposed to that philosophy, to that kind of functioning as a club.”
The next few months will be the most important yet in Christiansen’s career. She will be needed more than ever in midfield for England, given Jordan Nobbs’ absence due to a ruptured ACL. Nobbs has been ruled out for this year’s World Cup; this week’s SheBelieves Cup — which will see England prepare for the World Cup with matches against Brazil, Japan and the United States — will serve as another test for the Lionesses. Christiansen might have more asked of her than ever and head coach Phil Neville tries to figure out how to deal with the absence of Nobbs.
Christiansen’s initiative to expand her horizon and jump across the channel hasn’t gone unnoticed by England assistant coach Bev Priestman, who joined the Lionesses in August 2018. Priestman has quickly seen an evolution in Christiansen’s game.
“I went to her game recently, her and Lucy [Bronze] against PSG,” Priestman recalled. “What we see with Izzy is an immense work rate, a true professional, and an attacking threat in the box. She is constantly on the move. I think her professionalism and how committed she is, her move to Lyon shows that.
“She wants to be around the best players in the world, day in, day out, and train with the best, to be the best. She’s great on the ball, brings high energy in that midfield, which any midfield wants.”
Christiansen scored on her England debut on Sept. 21, 2015 against Estonia in a 2017 European Championship qualifying match. She has scored five goals in 26 appearances with the Lionesses.
England kick off the 2019 SheBelieves Cup at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday against Brazil. Christiansen will likely be busy with the absence of England Nobbs and fellow veteran Jill Scott, who pulled out of the squad on Sunday due to injury. Christiansen has all the tools in her locker to thrive after going all in with Lyon.
“I feel like my football is improving,” said Christiansen. “I feel like a real kind of measure of that would be if selected at the World Cup. When it comes up face to face with some of the players I’m training with, it’s a great experience being challenged every single day. Yeah, I’m excited.”
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