UEFA.com works better on other browsers
For the best possible experience, we recommend using Chrome, Firefox or Microsoft Edge.

Overcoming setbacks: My Story with Daniëlle van de Donk

Danielle van de Donk's career has seen the highest highs and the lowest lows. Here, she reflects on those testing times and the importance of a positive outlook in achieving her goals.

Daniëlle van de Donk is one of the leading names in European women's football, gaining over 100 Netherlands caps during a career that has also seen her play club football in her homeland, Sweden, England and France.

As a teenager, she overcame a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament during her first year of senior football, making a full recovery to become a Dutch international and was part of the squad that won UEFA Women's EURO 2017 on home soil.

Despite this success, on-going ankle issues and a ruptured tendon threatened to derail her plans for Women's EURO 2022, but she won the race to be a part of the Netherlands squad and is a key player as they aim to retain their crown - she netted one of the outstanding goals of the group stage in the Netherlands' victory over Portugal on matchday two.

Below, the 30-year-old recalls the tough times that made her who she is today.

Van de Donk's stunning group-stage strike

Daniëlle van de Donk on… starting out in a boys' team 

Since I was a young girl, times have changed, but when I was a little girl, I would play with the boys and I was the only girl in the team, but I had a great time.

The boys all accepted me and I think they also liked the fact that I was in their team. It was the other teams who would be making remarks or laughing at us. It was annoying sometimes, but I was never really upset about it. I always thought I would just prove myself.

After the match, they would often say to me that they had never played against a girl, but that they thought I was actually pretty good. That was quite special.

When you play with boys, it’s different because of their speed, the way they handle the ball and their strength. I really learned a lot from that and it has also made me a better player.

Daniëlle van de Donk on… suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury at 16

It was my first year in the Women’s Eredivisie. I played for Willem II and I went from playing two or three times a week to playing almost every day, double practices, matches and travelling. It was very hard physically and my knee just gave out.

Nine months is a long time, especially as a top athlete. Those nine months are just lost.

When you watch your own team’s matches, you want them to play well, but preferably with you there too. That part was very tough, it’s something you always experience when you have an injury.

Daniëlle van de Donk on… finding the positives in adversity

At the time, your world just falls apart. But it was a bit strange, because the same had happened to one of my team-mates just ten days before my injury so we were in the same boat. I knew I wasn’t in it alone. We could recover together and I didn’t feel alone when I was down.

It’s the worst case scenario but I also think it’s the best thing that could have happened to me, because I had to learn to train in a disciplined way. So, I think I look back at it more positively than most people do.

I was still very young and not as well-conditioned as I am now. I was able to be positive about it and just think, "This is the time to become stronger, fitter and to come back stronger than ever".

I was also well-supported and helped by the KNVB and Willem II, they both helped me a lot through recovery. I believe they thought the same as I did - do it the right way and she’ll come back stronger.

Daniëlle van de Donk on… recent ankle issues

Van de Donk tastes UEFA Women's Champions League success with Lyon in 2022 - she was an unused substitute having recently recovered from injury
Van de Donk tastes UEFA Women's Champions League success with Lyon in 2022 - she was an unused substitute having recently recovered from injuryUEFA via Getty Images

I’ve always had a bit of a problem with my ankles but I think that’s common in football. Before the Olympics were postponed due to COVID-19 (in early 2020) – something weird happened to my ankle in a game against Canada during the Tournoi de France.

They didn’t really know what it was and they couldn’t find anything on the X-ray. I visited some specialists but everything looked fine. I noticed, however, that my ankle was getting weaker and weaker, I didn’t have as much muscle and power as before. So, I knew something was wrong, but as long as no-one finds anything, you just keep playing.

This worked for a while, for about two years, and then I ruptured my tendon, the one that runs from your shin to your foot, and which lifts your foot, which I couldn’t do any more.

I’ve never heard of it. But in the end, it is just a tendon and, fortunately, there are many good doctors that know how to make it better. I’m happy with how they helped me. It was quite tough, but it’s okay now.

Daniëlle van de Donk on… this year's Women's EURO 2022 fitness race

From the start, my own mindset has been that I would give anything to make it. I’m just going to make it. And, of course, if you don’t make it, it’s a setback, but you need to set a goal and work towards it. This was my goal and I made it.

I think it’s very special and I’m very proud and also very grateful that I’m on the team, as I haven’t managed to play a lot.

In action against Sweden's Caroline Seger in the Netherlands' opening game at Women's EURO 2022
In action against Sweden's Caroline Seger in the Netherlands' opening game at Women's EURO 2022Getty Images

Daniëlle van de Donk on… hopes for this summer

I think it’s very special that we are reigning champions and taking part in such a big event again. We have already achieved so much, and we have given people in the Netherlands reason to have a lot of respect for women’s football. That is something I look back on with pride. That is the greatest thing I have achieved. Not any individual award, but this.

We were always the underdog and since we won the EURO in 2017, we were also in the World Cup final, so we are not the underdog anymore. We know that very well. So, we have a little bit of pressure, but I think that’s good for the team and our fans help us tremendously. They're our 12th man.