Toni Duggan does not settle for second best. World Cup semi-final? Not good enough. Women’s Super League? Completed it, time for a new challenge. The overarching feeling that comes across from spending 30 minutes speaking to the Atletico Madrid forward via video link is one of ambition.
Not content with winning six major domestic trophies and a SheBelieves Cup, the 29-year-old still has her sights set on taking home a gold medal at the Olympics (should they go ahead), winning the next World Cup and restoring Atletico Madrid to glory.
Duggan is speaking to JOE at the launch of the adidas Predator Freak, about growth in the women’s game, World Cup “disappointment” and uprooting to Spain.
Phil Neville has just departed from his post as Lionesses manager, and despite criticism of both his ego and his tactics from some corners of the sports media, Duggan is full of praise for the work he put in during his time with the squad.
“For me, personally, I think Phil did a great job,” she says. “From day one, he really implemented his values on the team. All of his experiences and what he’s achieved in the game, it was nice to see someone else’s opinion from a different point of view.
“We have to give big credit to Phil because he really used his platform, he really enhanced the women’s game and made a lot of change in that respect. He demanded more from the FA, from people around, from the media.”
“His commitment and attitude were first class. He was one of the most hard-working managers I’ve ever worked under.”
Winning the SheBelieves Cup in the spring of 2019, finishing above the United States, raised the confidence of the group but also expectations on the Lionesses to bring home a World Cup that summer.
Duggan and her teammates fell short, losing to the eventual winners, USA, 2-1 in the semi-finals. The feeling back home was one of positivity, much like the previous summer. But Duggan never settles for second best.
“A lot of people will look at it and see it as a success but as a team, with Phil and the mentality that he instilled into us, we wanted to win it and we believed we could win it. So we actually came away from the tournament feeling a bit disappointed,” she says.
“We’re getting a lot closer now. We’ve been to two World Cup semi-finals and within touching distance of bringing a medal home. It was a big stepping stone and we obviously look back with a bit of disappointment because we could have won it. But I mean, it was a step in the right direction.”
Leading the Lionesses’ next chapter will be Sarina Weigman, who took the Netherlands one step further to the final in 2019.
“What she’s achieved so far in the game with Holland has been incredible,” Duggan says with almost tangible excitement.
“I’ve got a teammate at Atlético Madrid at the moment who’s Dutch and speaks very highly of her.”
Atlético Madrid then. Duggan currently plies her trade in Spain, having first moved there in 2017 when she left Man City for Barcelona.
Firstly, why the move to Spain at a time when Manchester City were the dominant team in the WSL and why leave Barcelona for Atlético?
“The opportunity came and I jumped at it,” she says.
“I’d achieved so much in England and I’d played in the top league for over ten years and I just felt like I was ready for a new, fresh challenge.
“I have no regrets over it, I’ve had an incredible time over in Spain. It’s obviously very different culturally. It’s really improved me as a player and definitely as a person.
“I think I’ve learned more in the past four years than I’ve ever learned in my whole career. I think just taking in a different style of play, a different outlook on football. Really detailed and specific.
“Technically and tactically, I think Spain is actually ahead of England in that respect. So it’s been good to come over here and challenge those parts of my game.”
Of course, it wasn’t all plain sailing. Adapting to a new culture is difficult for any footballer, especially if there are no other Brits in the changing room.
“Obviously I’ve had to adapt and learn a new language, which is quite difficult, but I’ve got used to it. I’m not fluent, I’m not too comfortable doing interviews, but I feel comfortable around the girls and around my coaches.”
The weather, she laughs, was “a bit easier, obviously” than the language.
The moment she knew she wanted to leave Barcelona and join Atletico came, ironically, during a 2-0 win over Atleti in a game that saw her score Barça’s second goal to cap off a victory.
It was in the spring of 2019, when more than 60,000 fans packed out the Wanda Metropolitano to watch the women’s game, creating the same hostile atmosphere associated with the supporters of Atletico’s men’s team.
“For me, [the atmosphere at the Wanda] was definitely a big pulling factor,” she explains.
“When I first moved to Spain to play for Barcelona, I remember one of my first games against Atletico Madrid – it was at the men’s training ground – I remember the fans were incredible.
“They turned out to the Wanda a year later and to have 60,000 people supporting the women’s team so passionately was another big factor, so I knew when I wanted a change.
“The way they get behind the team, the way they support them, the facilities, it’s first class.
“I’m at a great club and I’m enjoying my football.”
Enjoying her football she may be, but you can tell Duggan is hungry for more.