What has it been like since you came back to Everton for a second spell?
It’s been so nice to be back home. Everton’s ambitions were great and matched mine, so it was the perfect move. I just felt it was time to come home – I’d had four years in Spain and it was such a great experience, but the past year affected a lot of things. It was really difficult not seeing my family – for the first three years, there was always someone at the home games, but for the past year it was impossible for them to fly over. It’s the home comforts you miss, even the English food. I know it’s not the best and everyone prefers tapas, but it’s the simple things, like a bowl of scouse!
You started your career at Everton, when the team were only part-time. How different is the setup now?
It’s really different now. When I was younger, we were one of the top two teams in England, us and Arsenal, and we were playing Champions League football year after year. It’s been a bit up and down since I left – the team got relegated but they’ve bounced back. The club have invested heavily in the women’s team. I used to train two or three times a week, from 8pm until 10pm on the indoor pitch, but now we’re full-time, at Finch Farm during the day being professional footballers, eating in the canteen. It’s just come on leaps and bounds.
Everton were fifth last season, the club’s highest finish since 2013. What are your aims this campaign?
The girls did great last year. They got to Wembley in the delayed 2020 Vitality Women's FA Cup Final and we’ve made several fantastic signings. Our ambition this year has to be Champions League football. It’s going to be difficult because there’s a lot of talent in the Barclays Women's Super League, but we have to really go for it.
Is it special to return to the club where your career began?
No footballer forgets their roots. We won the Vitality Women's FA Cup and the FA Women's National League Cup, and missed out narrowly on the league to Arsenal, but it was my first taste of the Champions League and I absolutely love that tournament. I was 15 or 16 when I first played in it – the club had to call my mum and write to school to get permission, because you were away for a week and played three matches. It was an incredible experience. I got my first England call-up while I was at Everton, too.
You had four years at Manchester City, then joined Barcelona in 2017. How did the move come about?
I won everything it was possible to win at Manchester City, bar the Champions League, and felt the time was right for a change. I didn’t think it would be abroad, but Barcelona came knocking and it was an opportunity I didn’t want to turn down. I have absolutely no regrets – I got to the Champions League final with Barcelona. Sadly we couldn’t win it, but that’s what still drives me now.
Did you pinch yourself the first time you pulled on a Barcelona shirt?
It was strange, and it hit the news, because I was only the second person from Britain to sign for them since Gary Lineker. As a kid I would watch Barcelona every week, so to be pulling on their colours was amazing. I was ambitious and I didn’t win the Spanish league, which was a disappointment, but it was a privilege to be part of such a huge club. There was so much media at all the training sessions – if we lost a game there were always questions, and there was so much pressure, but
I love pressure.
We loved your picture with ‘the fella from work’, a certain Lionel Messi…
[Laughs] The first time I met him I was really starstruck, but he was really nice with us. We did a team photo, and he stayed behind and got pictures with the girls. I met him three or four times after that, and every time I asked him for a picture – he must have thought I was a bit weird! He’s the greatest player to have played our game. It was a privilege to rub shoulders with him, and I was lucky to watch him every week at the Camp Nou. What a player.
Why did you leave Catalonia to join Atletico Madrid in 2019?
It was complicated leaving Barça. They did offer me a contract, but we couldn’t agree terms. Atletico came knocking, and I’d played against them that year at the Wanda Metropolitano [in front of 60,000, a world-record crowd for a women’s game] and fell in love with their fans. Atletico are such a big club.
Did it help there was another English player at Atletico, in Kieran Trippier?
Yeah, especially when the lockdown came. I became good friends with his family and it helped me a lot, because I didn’t have people visiting me and I was really homesick. I got to know his wife and the kids, and Kieran has done amazing there, winning La Liga. He’s a great person with a great family, and we’ll stay friends now.
You have 76 England caps, but are yet to feature since the pandemic. Is getting back into the squad a goal?
That’s one of my biggest aims this season, but I need to be performing every single week at Everton to get a chance. I’ve really missed it, and I think I still have the quality to do it.
You lost your place towards the end of Phil Neville’s reign, after travel restrictions forced you to miss a training camp. How did that feel?
I felt a little hard done by with that – I couldn’t fly back because of COVID, then for the following three camps I wasn’t selected. It was difficult to miss the Olympics, too, because it was scheduled for 2020 and I felt in a lot better position then – I dealt with it OK this year because I didn’t expect to be selected. I know there’s a great pool of players in England doing really well, but I still feel I have a lot to bring. We have the home Euros next summer and I don’t want to miss out on that. I’ll give everything I can to be part of it.
This Toni Duggan interview first appeared in the October 2021 issue of FourFourTwo magazine.
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