Jill Roord, Arsenal’s scorer of consecutive hat-tricks which led to her being named on Friday as the first Barclays player of the month for the new season, lets out a big laugh when asked whether she is planning to challenge her compatriot Vivianne Miedema for the Golden Boot.
“That will be hard,” she says of surpassing the league’s top scorer of the past two seasons. “I don’t think it’s realistic for me to say I want to be top scorer and I don’t need to be, but I do think I should score a lot more than I did last season … Well, I’ve already done that.”
It has taken the 23-year-old two games to treble her tally from the previous campaign and send out quite the statement. “I’ve actually always been like a scoring midfielder,” says the Netherlands international. “But my focus last season was a bit different. I played in the six a lot, or the eight, and not really in the 10. So a bit more defensive, with the focus more on ball possession and controlling the game.”
As injuries to Arsenal’s more defensive midfielders, in particular Lia Walti, stacked up, Roord was pushed back to sit in front of the backline. To some extent she was a victim of her own success, performing strongly in the role. Her 90% pass completion rate, according to Statsbomb, was second only to the centre-back Jen Beattie’s 91%, and her long pass completion rate was top at 83%.
Roord, signed in May 2019, was a typical Joe Montemurro recruit: versatile. She, like her manager at Arsenal, believes she can play as a six, eight or 10, but No 10 is definitely the favourite. “I think we’ve seen that it suits me better than the six probably,” she says with another grin.
The turnaround in her goalscoring form is not just down to the positional shift. It can also be attributed to the silver lining in the dark cloud of Covid-19: a rest.
“I think I haven’t been this fit in my career,” she says. “I’ve been doing a lot in quarantine but also I could switch off mentally and physically for the first time in many years.
“I’ve always had a tournament in the summer, a World Cup, a Euros, so I never really have days off. It was always just a week and then back in training. So this was the first real break in five years or something. That has been really good for me. I felt really fresh going into pre-season.”
She had help too, training a lot with her younger brother who “plays too, at an amateur level but he’s like the highest amateur level, so that’s still really good in Holland. That was nice because I was able to play football a lot and stay fit … and he pushed me as well if I was lazy.”
Roord, who began playing for a local team aged five, and her brothers come from a sporting family. Their mother, Chantal, played basketball and their father, René, was a professional footballer, primarily with FC Twente.
“He’s texting me every day saying: ‘How’s it going?’” she says. “He has done that for years.” He “always” analyses her games and is always “very honest” in his assessments.
“We have had some arguments; not any more because I’m realistic now,” Roord says with a laugh. “I know when I haven’t played well and what I should have done better but when I was younger, yeah, we had some fights about it.”
“I do feel really, really confident and good here,” she says. “I can be myself on the pitch, off the pitch and that is something I maybe missed at Bayern Munich. But since I came here, since day one, I felt really comfortable.”
In Munich, Roord struggled. “The culture is very different. There were a lot of rules. We didn’t have that much fun on the pitch and I need that. Some players don’t need that but I need to have fun and relax sometimes.
“At Arsenal there’s a really good balance between performing and being serious and after training switching off and having a laugh with each other. In Germany is the focus was always serious which didn’t suit me, but it was good for me.”
At Arsenal the players live close to one another and socialise together. Roord has two Netherlands internationals, Miedema and the forward Danielle van de Donk, with her in the squad.
“It’s really nice just to speak Dutch sometimes. If we travel to the national team we’re travelling together. And especially Viv – I’ve known Viv since I was 13. We always skipped through the [national] teams together. We went from the under-15s to the under-17s to the under-19s and the first team together.”
They won Uefa Under-19 Championships in 2004, then a home Euros in 2017 and reached the World Cup final in 2019. Are they part of a golden generation of Dutch female footballers? “People say that about us; we’re both very down to earth, but I think so,” she says with a laugh.
Roord, having picked up an injury on international duty, is getting fit again. “I think an injury never comes at the right time but I can’t complain – normally knee injuries can be really bad and it’s not too bad, so I’m happy about that.”