Exclusive: Tessel Middag talks Fiorentina, UWCL and Netherlands call-up

Copyright: Lisa Guglielmi

Fiorentina’s Dutch international Tessel Middag discusses the prospect of facing her old club in the Champions League draw. We also hear how this season is going with her new club and about life in the city of Florence.

Catch 22

Fiorentina have just suffered the disappointment of getting knocked out of the Coppa Italia. The team are however, still in this season’s Champions League tournment. The draw for the Round of 16 takes place tomorrow and Tessel Middag could find herself coming up against one of her former clubs, Manchester City.

“In terms of the quality of the squad, we probably want to avoid them,” Middag told Her Football Hub. “But I really would like to go back to Manchester. It would be great to see the girls and the staff members that I know from my time there.

“I have really warm feelings for the club and the supporters group still send me a lot of messages.”

Great Expectations

Fiorentina also reached the final of the recent Supercoppa, but their league position is probably not what they expected coming into this season.

After a bright start they haven’t been able to remain consistent. This could be put down to a lot of new players coming into the squad but also the injury problems that have hit the team.

“It’s probably a mixture I would say,” Middag divulged. “Personally speaking, I played the first game and then hurt my ankle in training and was out for a couple of weeks. We’ve had some injuries plus we have quite a few new players, so it’s a bit of both.

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“Obviously we would like to be in a higher position in the league at the moment, although we are happy with reaching the next round of the Champions League. Realistically, we’re probably not going to win it, even though we will give it our all. But it’s also good for Italian football that there’s still an Italian club in the draw.

“With these latest wins in the league we can continue to rise and finish in a spot that’s Fiorentina worthy.”

Far From The Madding Crowd

One of the things that all players have needed to adapt to, is the absence of fans at the games. Moving to a new club in this period means that footballers like Middag still don’t know just what their team’s support can be like.

“It’s a bit sad because one of the great things about being a professional footballer is the atmosphere in the stadium, it always gives you something extra. At the moment it’s something I feel I lack in my Italian experience.”

Middag has however, managed to get a taste of what could have been.

“I have spoken to some of the fans though. They come to our training sessions, and even outside the games where we can speak before and after. There are two fan groups, they put a sign up at our pitch, ‘Sempre Con Voi’ (Always With You), as a little extra motivation. We do feel their support even though they’re not with us in the stadium.”

On the Road

After Tessel spent two seasons with Manchester City and then another two at West Ham, the Dutch midfielder decided it was time for a change of scenery.

“I spoke with my agent – as you do almost every summer – and said I would like to try a new league. I had been in England for four years and felt that maybe it was time for a new league and also some new impulses in my life. Things like learning a new language and culture, and a chance to play against new opponents.

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“Fiorentina had been interested the year before so I’d always kept that in my mind and just the thought of playing for such a beautiful historical club with the Viola purple shirt, in one of, if not the most beautiful cities in Europe, really triggered me.

“Also the fact that when their season ended early, they were second in the league which meant Champions League qualification, was an extra motivation for me. Then of course the weather, and Italy as a country, there were a lot of positives.”

Goodbye To All That

While Italy has made strides in recent years in improving the women’s league, especially with many major clubs joining Serie A, it’s still not quite up to the standards of the Women’s Super League in England.

“I would say that the facilities available is probably the biggest difference that comes to mind. In England the quality of the pitches were usually amazing.

“I was lucky enough to play for Manchester City, but also at West Ham we had some amazing quality grass pitches whereas in Italy we usually play on artificial turf. In Italy they are also focused a bit less on gym and strength work.

“In England the gym facilities are pretty good even for a lot of women’s teams a little lower down the ranks. You can see that in England they are a couple of years ahead when it comes to making investments.”

The Awakening

It may have taken Middag a little while to become a regular in the Viola starting lineup, but right now she looks to be getting back to her best.

“I’m getting there to be honest. It feels really good at the moment and what I really like about Fiorentina is the way Antonio Cincotta, our coach, works. We focus a lot on technique, especially in pre-season.

“With the tactical work, we have a good idea of how we want to play and that’s just so enjoyable. We also try to play football with the ball on the ground. I think all of that helps to bring out the best in me.

“The first couple of months after my injury I struggled to find or retain my starting spot. It’s hard to bring out your best if you don’t play a lot but now since the New Year I feel like the old Tessel is there.”

Fever Pitch

Middag’s recent great form also brought about her first goals for Fiorentina, her first goals in over four years. She scored in two consecutive games in January. The first was the final goal in a 3-1 win over San Marino but her second a week later was even more important.

Away to Inter Milan, she grabbed a late winner with a stunning strike.

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“The first goal was such an amazing feeling because since my Man City days I hadn’t scored again. But especially the winning goal against Inter, it’s for those moments that you become a footballer. When it’s 2-2 and to score the winning goal five minutes before the final whistle, from a shot outside of the box, that’s an amazing feeling.”

The Trial

Could this consistent good form also mean that a return to the Holland squad is also a possibility?

“I think it is. I’ve been out for quite a while now and Holland are preparing for the Olympics, if they take place.

“I didn’t play as much in the first half of the season so I guess it’s understandable that I didn’t get a call-up, but if I can continue my good form then who knows what will happen.

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“I think I still have some particular qualities that are good enough for the national team but the competition is rising every year. It’s not going to be easy of course, the Dutch team have been performing very well in recent years, so it’s a big challenge to secure a spot in the squad of 23.

“I’m gonna do my best, I can’t do more than that. At the moment I have 44 caps to my name and I’m hoping I can add more to them.”

Brave New World

Already fluent in German and English, Middag’s move to Italy not only brought about a change of scenery, but also a new language to learn. A recent post-game interview on the Fiorentina website, showed that in a short space of time she is already gaining confidence with the Italian language.

“It’s all credit to our teacher, Federica. She works for the club and helps all the international players, also on the men’s side,” Middag said. “We have individual lessons and I’ve really been enjoying that in the last couple of months.

“All the team meetings are 90% in Italian and I can understand everything that’s being said. Of course speaking the language is always a big step but that interview was the first I did in Italian, so it’s a good first step. There is still a lot to learn.

“There is a pride and passion in the Italians for their language. Their attitude is, ‘you’re in Italy here so you’d better speak Italian’. It’s also okay if they have to speak a little slower.”

My Brilliant Friend

Middag joined Fiorentina at the same time as Irish international Louise Quinn, and the two have since become firm friends.

“I didn’t know Louise personally. I knew her from playing against her and I knew the type of player she was. On a personal level though, we only met in July 2020.”

“It’s really nice to have her as a teammate on the pitch, where she’s so solid, and off the pitch just a very funny lovely girl. Myself and Lou, we have a good connection on and off the pitch.”

Under the Tuscan Sun

As a history student, Florence is definitely a must-see destination. So had Tessel Middag ever visited here before joining Fiorentina, and how is she enjoying actually living in the city?

“I had been here just once before, ten years ago on a family holiday. Now I usually go out on my bike, which gives a pretty good impression of the city. I think I’ve been in every neighbourhood. There is still a lot more to see though, when it comes to museums etc. A lot of them were closed for almost the whole time that I’ve been here.”

“In a way it’s been really special to be here during the Covid period, because there are so few tourists. You can just cycle or walk over the Ponte Vecchio without being rushed over by others. Recently the museums have re-opened and I’ve seen the Uffizi Gallery, so that was pretty great.”

A Tale Of Two Cities

Anyone who has ever been to Florence will no doubt recall the Duomo cathedral, or one of the many other tourist attractions of the city. Middag’s favourite area however, is to be found on the other side of the Arno river, away from the city centre.

“I really like the Santo Spirito area. It has a lot of nice food places, a beautiful church and the vibe in that area is what I love the most. Then of course Piazzale Michelangelo during sunset is amazing too.”

“I also have a nice cycle route home from where we train in Gavinana. When I cycle home in the evening the sun is going down and the light is amazing. I’m just on my bike looking around at everything.”

“I feel really grateful to be able to make a living out of playing football and doing that in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.”

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