Grace Clinton interview: The young Lioness hoping to get fans off their feet

Grace Clinton interview: The young Lioness hoping to get fans off their feet
Grace Clinton's form led to an England debut this season - Getty Images/Mike Hewitt

Grace Clinton always seemed destined for a life in football, growing up a stone’s throw from Liverpool’s Melwood training ground with a “Messi” Argentina shirt on her back. Now, she is starting to fulfil that destiny.

The 21-year-old has enjoyed a breakthrough campaign while on loan at Tottenham Hotspur from Manchester United this season and has burst her way into the England starting team.

Already a success story of the loan system, having helped Bristol City win promotion to the Women’s Super League in her first loan spell away from Manchester United last season, Clinton says this latest opportunity has been transformational for her development and – speaking exclusively to Telegraph Sport – she is full of praise for one person in particular: Tottenham head coach Robert Vilahamn.

“He’s massive for me. From day one, he just gave me so much confidence and so much calmness, to know that making mistakes is OK, [because] I’m young,” Clinton says. “Even when I’d make a mistake and my head goes down a little bit, he still wants me to go and do those risky things, and that’s all I can ask for, a coach that really believes in me as a player. He just gives me so much trust and freedom. He’s an amazing manager.”

Vilahamn is in his first season in English football and Clinton says he has guided Tottenham to sixth in the top tier through quiet, relaxed communication, adding: “If he does yell it’d probably make me giggle, because he never yells. He’s very calm. He prefers conversations over shouting, and he won’t have a conversation with you until he’s ready to have a proper conversation. Another thing about him is he makes us do yoga once a week. I think that says it all about him. He’s very zen!”

Grace Clinton interview: The young Lioness hoping to get fans off their feet
Grace Clinton (left) is on loan at Spurs from Man Utd - PA/Adam Davy

Those methods seem to be doing the trick on the pitch because, on Sunday, Tottenham will contest a Women’s FA Cup semi-final for the first time in the club’s history, when they meet Leicester City at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. “Making history for the club was the biggest thing,” says Clinton. “For this club it means a lot, to get to the semis and we want to push on and get to the final.”

Clinton has been to the cup final twice before, first as an unused substitute for her former club Everton in 2020, then to watch her Manchester United team-mates in last season’s final. But there is a scenario whereby Clinton might not be able to play in the final – if Tottenham win and her parent club United beat holders Chelsea in Sunday’s other semi-final.

She has already made her first appearance on the Wembley pitch, however, starting in England’s 1-1 draw against Sweden last Friday – her third consecutive start for the Lionesses. The midfielder’s pride is clear as she recalls receiving her first call-up by Sarina Wiegman in October.

“I was a bit surprised, I was like ‘wow’, speechless,” Clinton says. “But she’s just a very cool woman, isn’t she? Everyone loves Sarina. Getting that call, to be honest I was a little bit starstruck. I rang my mum straight away and my mum started crying.”

‘I just want to make history with Spurs’

Clinton’s parents were able to watch her play against Austria and Italy in Algeciras in February, as Clinton slotted into the midfield with ease and scored on her debut: “For the second game I was absolutely fine, but before the first game you feel that sort of ‘this is it, everyone is going to see me as a player and judge me as a player’, so there were a few nerves going into that game, I hoped I’d do OK and not get overwhelmed.”

If England fans were judging that debut, their scorecards were surely high. And Clinton wants to be a player whose creativity gets fans off their seats, saying: “I’d like people to be excited that I’m on the ball, and expectant.

“I see myself as a creative, free player and like to think I’m unpredictable, a creative player. But I’ve also got that defensive side to me, with a bit of the Scouse in me, where I can get stuck in and win the ball back and then ‘go’, you know? Like the Gerrards and the Rooneys who won the ball back and then went and created something. So I think I can do a bit of both.”

England Under-23s head coach Emma Coates said of her time coaching Clinton within the young Lionesses international pathway: “Grace plays best when she plays with freedom and confidence and you can see that on and off the pitch. She’s so good under pressure, she plays with no fear.”

It is not yet known where Clinton will be playing her football next season, although Vilahamn has expressed his desire to buy Clinton once her loan deal expires. Asked about her future, the youngster responds with a mature answer, saying: “I get that question a lot, but I’m so excited with the rest of the season with Spurs that I don’t think about it at all. That whole situation is completely out of my control so I’ll just do a job and right now I just want to make history [in the cup] with Spurs.”

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