Christen Press: ‘I chose No 24 with a little nod to Kobe Bryant’ | Manchester United Women

For most, having to quarantine has wrecked holidays and complicated work. However, for the US forward Christen Press there have been a “tonne of advantages” to the period of isolation the two-times World Cup winner and her international teammate Tobin Heath have had to face on their arrival at Manchester United.

“To be able to emotionally adjust and prepare, to be able to eat English food and get used to it, to sleep on the time zone,” says the infectiously smiley Press. “I actually felt going into my first training session, which was a few days ago, that I was much more prepared than I would have been if I had got off a flight the day before.“

That period of calm in the storm of the pandemic brought to a close six months without football, “the longest stretch of time of my life that I haven’t played”, said the striker, who was a Champions League runner up with Swedish side Tyresö FF in 2013-14 and also had a spell with Göteborg.

Press, who gave the US the lead in their semi-final defeat of England at the 2019 World Cup, says she had “not been considering coming to Europe” but when football shut down in the US “all bets were off”.

United swooped for Press and Heath, keen to add world-class veterans to an inexperienced and youthful forward line. It was a statement of intent from the Women’s Super League side, who have played only one season in the top flight.

The move wasn’t just convenient though In United Press saw a young club that has “a fresh hunger and vibrancy” and in Casey Stoney a manager twho is “liked and respected”.

“I think the team is prided on being disciplined, being organised and being humble,” Press says. “Those are great attributes for any organisation. And one that I would be proud to be a part of.”

Press and Heath arrive hoping to inject the much-applauded relentless ‘winning mentality’ of the US women’s national team into Stoney’s side.

“I’m reluctantly accepting that I’m a veteran player and that I’m now one of the oldest players on the team, but younger than Tobin,” laughs Press. “We’re here to win and we’re here to fight for titles. I think what we’ll be able to bring is just a relentless mindset towards that, and to never question or doubt if that’s why we’re here and if that’s the team’s purpose.

“I think that’s a big thing. Also, just being a professional for a really long time you get really smart with what you need to do to be successful individually and I do think that younger players have to learn that, so hopefully we can be helpful in in that.”

For fans who raced to buy Press shirts with her usual 23 on the back, there was some disappointment when the forward selected 24 as her number (23 was unavailable) but it holds its own significance.

“I’m not someone that holds too much luck or significance to a number. But when I wasn’t able to wear my normal number, I chose this with a little nod to Kobe [Bryant], because I’m an LA girl.”

There were some tough times for Press when she last played in Europe, documented in her blog at the time, but she is better prepared for life abroad and the pandemic has helped contextualise the experience and made it “slightly different emotionally”.

She explains that on moving to Sweden “my world had changed and it was really all about me. I think that this year, a lot of people have learned, including myself, that it’s about a lot more than just me. I think I came here with a bit of calmness about how my personal life is being affected because I have gratitude and respect for the world that’s changing and the fact that public health and safety is no longer a given and life’s more precious. It’s not just the pandemic but also social activism has just opened everybody’s eyes to the role that we play in making the world a better place and I think because of that, coming here has a slightly different meaning to me.”

Press is no stranger to activism. She has stood shoulder to shoulder with her international teammates in their battle for equal pay and, as one of the highest-profile black women on the team, was in close contact with those involved in the establishment of the NWSL black players coalition (formed during the Challenge Cup which Press and a number of other high-profile members of the national team opted out of as the pandemic raged).

“Everything that’s gone on is just a reminder of what part we can all play in making a better world,” Press says. “Even though I was not in the bubble, I was in touch with a lot of players going through the stress and burden of racism and how it impacted every person in our country and honestly in the world.

“I think there’s great leaders that emerged in that moment. I feel really proud of how far the black players coalition has come and the way that female black athletes have come together to support each other. I think that’s one of many very important steps to create real change.”


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