Lieke Martens wants to inspire. The Barcelona and Netherlands midfielder did not have women’s soccer players to look up to growing up, or even girls’ teams to play on. Now, as one of the best young talents in women’s soccer, Martens is working hard so that girls around the world can have the opportunities she did not have back in her youth.
The 2017 FIFA Women’s Player of the Year is at the peak of her career, having recently led the Netherlands to the 2019 Women’s World Cup final while helping Barcelona Femenil emerge as a powerhouse. Martens joined Barcelona two seasons ago, and has since helped the Catalans reach the 2019 Champions League final and win the team’s first Spanish League title in five years.
Like many women, Martens grew up playing soccer with boys until she was 16 years old. The level of play was great for improving her skills, but the level of physicality may not have been worth it. She was maliciously kicked, had her ponytail pulled, and even faced verbal abuse from the touchline simply because of her gender.
Instead of letting that experience stifle her love for soccer, Martene stuck with it and signed for SC Heerenveen at the age of 17 to start her pro career and to begin influencing other girls so nobody else has to face what she did during her youth.
“When I was young I had men who were my role models,” Martens told Forbes in March. “I really feel I have that role now and I want to show girls what they can achieve. I think we all want to be role models for them. My dream didn’t exist when I was young, but now little girls are starting to play football and they have their dream of wanting to play professionally and that’s amazing.”
Martens is an excellent role model for any girl with the confidence to take on challenges. A speedy winger who combines dangerous dribbling, sharp finishing and top-notch speed, Martens can threaten defenses as an inverted winger on the left flank, or as a forward, where she can unsettle central defenders with her pace.
Martens moved clubs a lot in her early career, stopping at seven clubs in four different countries over eight years. Her breakout performance at Euro 2017, where she helped lead the Netherlands to its first major women’s title on her way to being named player of the tournament. That performance attracted Barcelona’s attention and Martens he signed with the Spanish giants that summer before going on to win both the UEFA and FIFA Best Women’s Player awards.
Martens has been a fixture at Barcelona ever since and even signed a contract extension last summer that will keep her at the Camp Nou until at least the end of the 2021-2022 season.
Barcelona is the perfect place for Martens to use her stardom to become an inspiration. The club is on the front foot when it comes to promoting women’s soccer to their fans and potential young players. Barcelona’s famous La Masia Academy is open to girls and has already produced several regulars on the senior team using the very same principles that developed some of the greatest players in the men’s game. Their U-15 girls program has achieved international success, including winning the 2019 International Champions Cup Futures tournament in Bradenton, Florida last December.
“It’s really nice to be part of this club because they really believe in women’s football,” Martens said, “and they want to push women’s football forward.”
Martens wants to do the same thing, and her status as a star for the Dutch National Team and Barca Femenil have given her a platform to inspire young girls in a way she could only have dreamed of when she was growing up in the Netherlands.
It is no coincidence that the caliber of female soccer talent emerging from the Netherlands is rising at an astronomical rate, and Martens can take some credit for being the kind of role model who can help inspire a generation.