Shortly after the final whistle at Bramall Lane on Tuesday evening, Mary Earps received congratulations from David de Gea.
England have just beaten Sweden 4-0 to reach the Euro 2022 final, but the score could have been very different if Sarina Wigman’s goalkeeper hadn’t made some superb saves early on.
Although Earps and her male Manchester United counterpart do not train together, they support each other and have a regular relationship. “David just sent me a message congratulating me,” she revealed, beaming at speculation that her first save, made with her left leg outstretched to beat Sofia Jacobsson in the first 30 seconds, seemed straight out of a De Gea textbook.
“I’ll accept that comparison, no problem,” said the 29-year-old, who isn’t afraid to dig into the brains of the Spain goalkeeper. “David and I talk a little. We inform each other about results, clean slates and stuff. At Manchester United, he really supports women’s football; It’s always nice to have his support.”
Earps has come a very long way in the 10 years since she juggled a low-paying part-time job to earn the gas money needed to travel to training at the Doncaster Belles.
A decade ago, the Nottingham goalkeeper never believed she could make a living playing football and, while considering a career in commerce, took a degree in information management and business studies from Loughborough University.
While football remains her first love, business fascinates her, and during the lockdown, she convinced United to let her take a special entrepreneurship course. She also brushed up on her German skills, having acquired it when she was reserve goalkeeper at Wolfsburg in the 2018-2019 season.
“I eat, sleep, dream and breathe football,” she said. “But I’m also fascinated by business.” During the first quarantine, Earps especially enjoyed reading Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. However, at that stage, she seemed resigned to the fact that she would never advance beyond the status of understudy in the international goalkeeping hierarchy.
After her international debut under Mark Sampson in 2017, she traveled to the 2019 World Cup in France as Phil Neville’s third goaltender and may have moved up in the rankings under Wigman only due to a serious injury that left Ellie Roebuck from Manchester City missed the match. first half of last season.
After Roebuck recovered, Wigman went through a period of alternating between her, Aston Villa’s Hannah Hampton and Earps in goal. When the United goalkeeper was confirmed as the first choice for Euro 2022, some critics questioned the England manager.
Earps stymied them by keeping four clean sheets in five tournament games. Her overall prowess was epitomized in a moment in the semi-final when Stina Blackstenius’ shot appeared on an unstoppable trajectory to the far top corner only for Earps to perform acrobatic feats and knock him over.
At this point, it became abundantly clear how far Earps had come since France in 2019, when her main contribution to England was her penchant for morale-boosting pranks.
She did not feel “entitled to anything” at the time and, when Neville subsequently dumped her completely, had no public complaints. “I thought very hard about, ‘Yes, this is probably the end of my international road,'” Earps said. “I never expected anything more.”
Wigman, however, acknowledged the quality and continuous improvement of the goalkeeper who, despite spending that season at Wolfsburg largely on the bench, learned a lot from playing against strikers of the caliber of Danish striker Pernille Harder in training.
It also helped that after years of frequent transfers – with spells in Birmingham, Bristol City and Reading after her time at Doncaster – United offered her the stability of a long-term contract.
However, on Tuesday, it looked like the player, who takes his job so seriously that he has a dedicated monitor to measure sleep quality, couldn’t quite believe the magnitude of his recent metamorphosis. “I really enjoy playing at this level,” she said.
“It’s such a fantastic feeling. I’m just so proud to be a part of this England team.
“My teammates have said very nice things – some amazing things – about me and it just means a lot. I want to be the best for them.”
Not that she ever missed her homework. The woman, who worked at the cinema while working at Doncaster Belles, now spends countless hours studying the small screen in her living room.
“I watch as much football on TV as I can,” Earps said. “I watch a lot of Premier League games, but I also study goalkeepers from all over the world. It is very important for a goalkeeper to develop his own style because not everything works. You may see something on TV, but it may not work for you; Everyone has a different physique, everyone has different strengths.”
Luckily for England, Wigman brought out an outstanding goalkeeping talent that other managers had failed to fully discover.