Olivia McLoughlin is Bringing New Energy to Football

Olivia McLoughlin is Bringing New Energy to Football

VERSUS chopped it up with Aston Villa and England midfielder Olivia McLoughlin to talk about how the PUMA baller is approaching the new season with nothing but energy.

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August 3rd 2023

Olivia McLoughlin isn’t like most 18-year-olds. She signed her first professional football contract just last year with Aston Villa, having worked her way through the academy ranks, and works alongside some of the best footballers in the women’s game: Euros winner Rachel Daly and World Cup bronze medalist Jordan Nobbs - both currently representing England in Australia and New Zealand - to name just two. And was on the cusp of qualifying for Champions League football only three months ago. Olivia McLoughlin might not live a standard teenage life, but she’s living the one she’s always worked for.

The England U19 midfielder started her football career with Birmingham City where she was named the club’s U16s Players’ Player of the Year back in 2020 - that summer she joined the Villans under the then tutelage of manager Gemma Davison. Since then, McLoughlin has worked tirelessly with current gaffer (and former Blues’ boss) Carla Ward. The three-time WSL Manager of the Month was nominated for Manager of the Year after helping Villa finish fifth in the WSL - the club’s best-ever result in the topflight of English women’s football.

A loan spell back to her noisy neighbours earlier this year, ensured McLoughlin notched up some more crucial First Team minutes, but she’s back for pre-season and ready to go toe-to-toe with a side hungry to clinch European football.

VERSUS sat down with the young baller to talk about Villa’s impressive 22/23 campaign, how she prepares for a new season - with some top tips from one of football’s best duos, Rachel Daly and Millie Bright - and what she thinks of PUMA’s latest ‘Energy Pack’ boot range.

“The growth in the last two years alone has been amazing, but it’s still crazy to think we could be playing European football very, very soon.”

VERSUS: You had such a successful season with Aston Villa, despite just missing out on a Champions League spot! How did you find 22/23?

Olivia McLoughlin: I think it’s been really good, 100%! In previous years there’s been quite a significant gap between the ‘Top Four’ and the rest of the table, to a point where the Women’s Super League’s been fairly predictable. But now, seeing how we performed last season and the way we show up to games, that gap is closing and teams like Villa are pushing others more than ever before. The players we signed ahead of last season, they’ve helped out massively. They’re also not just great players, but they’re the ‘right’ people too – the team environment is so good because of that.

VERSUS: With the changes you’ve had in the squad, does it feel like there’s a new energy around the place?

Olivia: Definitely. I’ve been in the First Team for the past two years, and I’ve always loved it, but I love it even more now.

VERSUS: What would you say was a ‘standout moment’ for you last season?

Olivia: Obviously, I went on loan in January. But, before that, I managed to start in a few games against the likes of Arsenal, which was a really great feeling. But yeah, I’m so proud of the girls despite being away.

VERSUS: Do you feel like that loan move gave you a new outlook on football?

Olivia: Yeah! I think it’s really important to get minutes at my age, and I also think when I was away it made me realise just how much I love Villa, and the passion I have for the club off the pitch as well as on it.

VERSUS: Being away from the team while they achieved what they did last season – their best WSL finish – as much as you were proud of them, did it also make you hungry to be back amongst it?

Olivia: 100%. Since I’ve come back, the standards in training have been crazy! I was a little nervous coming back but quickly realised that if I want to be at that level, fighting for the Top Four, I need to be prepared to always be at my best.

VERSUS: Champions League football is a very real dream for the club, if not this season coming, then in a few seasons time. Have you thought about it at all?

Olivia: I have a little bit, which is quite crazy to say. We had such a good season just gone, compared to the one previous where we finished ninth, which wasn’t where we wanted to finish. So the growth in the last two years alone has been amazing, but it is still crazy to think that we could be playing European football very, very soon. I am really excited by that, though.

“When I was away it made me realise just how much I love Villa, and the passion I have for the club.”

VERSUS: And then going into a new season, how do you prepare and energise yourself for that?

Olivia: Pre-season is always important, and this year we’re going on tour, so that’ll be a good time to experiment with new things. It’s all about making sure we get all the games in, practise as a unit, and get ready for the season to start. It sounds straightforward! But there’s a lot of learning and gelling that gets done in pre-season. It’s where the hard work starts.

VERSUS: When it comes to approaching a new season, do you set yourself goals, and if so, how do you go about it?

Olivia: I do, but I tend to split the season in half. As last season showed, things can change massively in January, and it’s dependent on signings and who’s joining the wider team. So, if I focus on September to December for example, and work on getting as many minutes as possible under my belt to prove myself, ensuring I make the most of every session as well, that’s my first aim or goal. But also I need to understand where I’m at and the wider context of that. I’m young and may not play as much, so it’s a matter of accepting that and working on the things I can control in order to ensure I get those minutes and as much experience as possible.

VERSUS: Obviously, a new season means new boots. We’ve chatted to a few players in the past and quite a lot of them have spoken about how good it feels to get new boots. Are you one of those players?

Olivia: Who isn’t! It’s weird; when I get new boots, I feel lighter…if that makes sense? It’s just a great feeling, and I know others in my team – and youth teams I’ve played in – feel the same. As for these – the new ‘Energy Pack’ – I love them! I’m a big fan of blue, so straightaway I saw these and liked them, and the laces are sick too. The blue and pink combination is great, you always want your boots to stand out from everyone else’s.

VERSUS: Has there been someone, a player or coach, who’s been a real inspiration for you and helped you along the way to where you are now?

Olivia: Rachel Daly. She’s so honest and will tell me if I’m doing something wrong, which is exactly what I need. There’s no point beating around the bush and I really respect that about her. She’ll stay out there, on the pitch with me, and teach me how to do things. Before games, and in camp too, she’ll chat to me or text me saying: “Set yourself three tasks, and you have to achieve them by the end of the game. If you don’t, then that’s what determines how you, personally, rate your performance”.

“As for these – the new ‘Energy Pack’ – I love them! You always want your boots to stand out from everyone else’s.”

VERSUS: That’s so nice, and I guess at the end of the day it’s always you being the one who really understands and pushes yourself. So, the fact that you can set those goals at an early age. And as you progress in your career, those goals might change, but your mindset doesn’t.

Olivia: I agree. I remember one time I messaged her back with three massive paragraphs, and she and Millie Bright were laughing together and saying: “Why are you writing essays?”. What Rach meant was, even if you write down a few words or one per goal, you can at least then run onto the pitch knowing exactly what it is you need to do. I really didn’t need to write her a piece of coursework!

VERSUS: How does it feel to work with a brand like PUMA?

Olivia: Really good, and I love wearing the brand. But looking more broadly, it allows me a lot of opportunities that elsewhere I probably wouldn’t have, which really helps me to get my name ‘out there’ and my presence felt not just on the pitch. That’s such an important part of football nowadays. I feel really supported by the brand and appreciated days like today, where I get to wear and try new gear, link up with other players and generally just enjoy myself!

Images and design by Sam Pembs for VERSUS.