At just 18, Victoria Pelova has already gone some way to announcing herself to the world of women’s football, the ADO Den Haag midfielder one of the stars of the 2017 U19 European Championships in Northern Ireland.
Putting on dazzling displays in Belfast, evocative of countrywoman Lieke Martens just weeks before at the senior Euros in the Netherlands, it’s safe to say Pelova’s stock skyrocketed over the summer.
Though with interest in women’s youth football low, there are few who know her name yet.
“No, I don’t think people knew more about me after the summer but when I came here this week, like on Instagram I got like a 100 followers, it was not normal, I’ve never had that before.”
When the first Dutch squad of the year dropped on 9 January, the teen was surprised to see her name included, her performances for both ADO and the U19s having caught the eye of coach Sarina Wiegman,
“No, no, I wasn’t expect it, I thought I was going to Portugal with the U19s, it was really a surprise for me.”
Though the Netherlands bowed out at the quarter-final stage of the U19s tournament, the team had taken more than a little inspiration from their senior counterparts before their own Euros kicked off. The Dutch crowd fully behind their team, creating an intoxicating atmosphere that the teen wanted to be part of on the pitch,
“I was two games and the crowd was so cool and I was like, “I want to do that.””
Never having been called up to the seniors before, Pelova is aware there’s a gap between the level she’s been used to and what is required of the older team,
“It’s really different, on the field it’s really hard because it’s much faster than the U19s – but it’s good for me to learn.”
The camp isn’t just a chance for the midfielder to prove her worth on the pitch but to get used to the senior players and learn from them, the environment a more relaxed one, the teen treated as an adult with her peers,
“Around the team, they’re all older than me but it’s okay, it’s more relaxed. There are less rules, with the U19s you have to certain things but here you can do whatever you want,” she quickly corrected herself, “Well not whatever you want.”
Expecting more aloofness from the seniors – despite what she’d heard – Pelova was pleasantly surprised to find the older team as down to earth as the youth sides, her teammates more than welcoming,
“It’s really cool, I didn’t expect them to… I thought they would be different, like Lieke Martens is really, really nice – I’d heard it but I didn’t expect it because she’s the best player in the world so it’s really weird to speak to her.”
Eyeing the future
With the standard in the Eredivisie still a way behind other leagues around the world, the 18-year-old is clear on her future and unfortunately for ADO fans, it involves a plane ticket,
“For now, I’m happy where I am, it’s the right place for me as I’m studying [maths] at university near the Hauge but eventually, I need to go outside of Holland.”
Looking to the future, aside from moving outside of the Netherlands, Pelova is looking to become a permanent fixture in the senior Dutch squad,
“This is my first call up but I want to be called up every time and I think that’s the hardest part.”
With a desire to spread her wings and find a stronger league, Pelova admits she has a big soft spot for a certain Catalan club but she wants to play in a strong league – preferably one with better weather than the Netherlands,
“I’m a big Barcelona fan, I love the city and the way they play… I just really love it but also England, because the competition is really good there, I think only the weather” she laughs, agreeing that it’s not too dissimilar to the Netherlands but her home isn’t known for having the best weather either, “But in Barcelona it’s really sunny, Lieke is really tanned. She looks really healthy and I’m really pale.” She finishes with another laugh.
A determined attacker with plenty of guile, the teen believes that playing on a team with boys her age has been beneficial to her development as a player,
“I played with the boys, up to two years ago – I think it was good for me that I played with them for so long – it’s really fast and it’s good for my physique.”
The midfielder still had to adjust when she made the switch to women’s football,
“The women train the abs and the muscles so when I came to the women it was hard to catch up but with the technic it was really good for me, I’m really glad I stayed with the boys for so long.”
Despite her comparatively diminutive stature, Pelova learned to outfox her opposition, taking a lesson or two from another Barca favourite,
“I think everybody can play together until they’re 17 but then they grow and it’s tough…. But also I’m really small, I was the smallest on the field with the boys but you can handle it, you have to be smarter than them and think quicker – Messi is really small but that’s not a problem for him.”
With Messi fresh in mind, the teen fast reeled off the players she’s looked up to, a distinct theme emerging,
“I’m a big fan of Xavi and Iniesta and Messi of course… and Modrić, he’s Real Madrid but I really like his style. But Iniesta is my favourite.”
When we conclude our chat there is just under 27 hours until the Dutch take to the pitch at the Pinatar Arena against Spain, the match a chance for Pelova to earn her first cap and without wishing to tempt fate the last question is of how the teen would feel about stepping out onto the pitch as a senior,
“It would mean the world to me, I would be really nervous.”