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Few athletes are as prolific, pioneering, consistently referenced and widely celebrated as Shanice van de Sanden.

She’s played in four countries. Won three consecutive Champions Leagues, seven league titles and a European Championship with The Netherlands. But she didn’t get to where she currently stands just through football.

Consider Shanice’s style, which while widely imitated, is still incredibly versatile. She can flicker through the full spectrum of self-expression, from street style to awards season, but she remains at the forefront of the culture and the conversation for her honesty when it comes to speaking on the many different encounters that so many footballers face.

For the latest chapter in the GAFFER x Beautiful Struggles story, we travelled to Berlin to unravel all the steps to a story that has made Shanice one of the most important and best loved players around.

Shanice van de Sanden paints the world with her own colour palette. The vivacity of her personality is reflected on her Instagram page, a treasure trove of football, travel, fashion, and personal style. Unlike a lot of leading influences in the game, a few scrolls on her page gives you genuine and unfiltered insight into the life she built herself both on and off the pitch.

Despite only starting to play football at the age of 12, Shanice made her international debut just four years later. She then kickstarted her professional career in 2008, in the comfort of her native Netherlands, before taking the plunge and moving to England to showcase her talent on unfamiliar soil.

In 2016, she signed for Liverpool, two-time champions of the Women’s Super League. It was a move that would shape her career and make her a household name.

“I’ve always been a big fan of Liverpool so I was really excited to go and play for them and play in England,” Shanice explains, reminiscing on her time in one of the world’s most popular women’s football leagues.

She immediately fell in love with her new city and when she wasn’t pulling on the red jersey, she soaked up the Liverpudlian culture. Her most precious days were spent with her camera on the scenic Albert Dock. Shanice found a sense of home during her time in England through the feeling of freedom to be unapologetically herself.

“I love England — everything is normal! You can have purple hair, pink hair, it doesn’t matter. You can be yourself and that’s it for me, that’s what I need. I need to be myself and then I am free on the pitch as well.”

“I need the feeling that people appreciate me for who I am, as a player but also as a person."

“I developed there because Liverpool believed in me.”

It took just two seasons on Merseyside before European giants Lyon came knocking. Grabbing an opportunity with both hands is something Shanice preaches. No moment is wasted, no emotion spared.

Less than 12 months after joining the French outfit, Shanice would produce one of the greatest on-pitch performances of her life, and she needed just 15 minutes to do it.

It was extra time in the 2018 Champions League final between Lyon and VfL Wolfsburg. All 22 players forcing themselves through the pain barrier, desperate not to let the tie trickle out to the roulette of a penalty shootout.

Wolfsburg struck first — a goal from Pernille Harder. Three minutes into extra time and the Dane surely thought she had done enough to extinguish Lyon’s hopes.

Shanice was brought on shortly after the opener to inject some fresh energy into the team. The Dutch forward who had been watching from the sidelines for more than 90 minutes was given an opportunity, with everything at stake.

The reigning champions were a goal down and there was very little time on the clock to get a foot back into the fight.

An Amandine Henry equaliser levelled it out. A minute later, Shanice slid a pass to the feet of Eugenie Le Sommer, who put the ball beyond the keeper.

The final was now in the hands of the French side and it was Shanice, the substitute playmaker, who had drawn blood from the wounded Wolves.

By the final whistle, Lyon had netted two more goals, both orchestrated by Shanice in an incredible and unheard of hat-trick of assists.

“You don’t ever give up,” she explains. “Because there will always be one moment where you can make a difference.”

While Shanice’s medal count is a sight to behold, success is just one part of building a legacy as an athlete. Honing a confident persona and having eternal self-belief is something Shanice admits she has always had. There is no knack to it, she is simply comfortable in herself and knows exactly what she has to offer.

But even the toughest of gems can be chipped away at and Shanice reflects on a time that soured her love for the beautiful game.

“I have always had that confidence, but during the World Cup in 2019, I didn’t play that well and the media was so negative on me. So I thought things like ‘why did I dye my hair a different colour? Because now they have a reason to talk about me.’

“I just really liked it, I love to have different hair but in the end the media put so much pressure on me that I didn’t really enjoy the game anymore. That really was a tough time — it took me maybe a year and a half until I was myself again.

“I had a mental coach and I’d worked with him for nine years already. So we made a plan and in the end, that helped me a lot and I feel much stronger now.”

Shanice takes a moment to appreciate the positive people she has in her life — the support system she leans on when her hardwired confident, carefree persona takes a knock — particularly her girlfriend, Tatjana.

The two met in a club in Amsterdam and it was a moment straight out of the movies.

“I went for a night out with my sister-in-law and I saw her and I said ‘yeah, she’s going to be my girlfriend,’” Shanice laughs through recollecting the first time she saw Tatjana.

“I danced with her that night and I asked for her Instagram. Two or three months later, we started dating and the rest is history.

“Of course, I still sometimes have days that are tough, that I struggle with the pressures of the game.

“But, I’m confident in myself as a person and as a player. When I have some days where I don’t have as much confidence I tell her [Tatjana] and she’s the one who supports me.

“She tells me ‘Hey, Shan, you have come this far because you have been yourself, so don’t change for anyone, because people want you to change. That’s why they talk about you.’

“I’m happy that I have different people around me who tell me that it’s okay. And now I know I will never get back to how I felt in 2019.”

It’s often all too easy to lose a sense of yourself in the world we live in. In football especially, negativity has clouded the bigger picture of the beautiful game. Hate has latched onto a sport designed to bring people from every corner of the world together.

Shanice, whose dulcet laughter envelopes itself around almost every sentence she says, is here to champion a gentler, more harmonious world in and outside of the game.

She recognises the powerful female figures we have in football today and how they are carrying the torch for those who are looking for a flame to guide them.

Megan Rapinoe is just one standout voice.

“Rapinoe is totally free in her mind, she doesn’t give a fuck,” Shanice begins. “She is just standing up for what she believes in, she stands up for women, and I think I can do that more often too if I don’t think too much about what other people think of me.

“I want everyone to be successful in life, I want to help everyone if they ever need my help. You just have to help each other in life so you can celebrate it together a little.”

Fine-tuning a frame of mind is not like switching between radio stations — especially not in football. The shadows of today’s social media culture can warp everything you believe about yourself and this is something Shanice has built a hard exterior towards.

“In life now, people are always judging, so some don’t want to tell the truth about themselves. We need to be kind, we need to be open — we don’t really appreciate people at the moment and I think that’s a big thing.

“We need to support each other to make the world a better place, even in football.

This is the mantra Shanice swears by.

“You have to be strong mentally — football is a tough sport. But you have to be ready for every single moment that you get.”

Away from the game, photography and fashion remain a major part of Shanice’s life, and it gives her those moments to reflect, evolve, move forward and find happiness. Photography, in particular, has always been something that has created a sense of escape for Shanice. A soothing view of the world from behind the lens.

“It makes me calm. I’m an over-thinker when it comes to a lot of stuff so when I take my camera and go somewhere, I don’t think about anything else.

“But what I really want is my own fashion brand. It’s something I’m talking about a lot with my girlfriend so I’m really focusing on stuff like that as well.

“I love clothes and I want to bring some cool stuff into the world.”

She pauses and begins to laugh as she thinks ahead to the future, to the flickers of ideas that run through her imagination, and manifest her next moves.

“I would love to go back to England and win something over there. I have had a great career up until now, but I am not done yet.”