If you missed Claire Emslie’s sensational strike for Scotland against the Faroe Islands last month, do check it out. A curling free-kick from the edge of the penalty box, the ball found the top corner. It was Scotland’s seventh goal but the celebrations were wild.
“I was excited and I was not going to hide it,” Emslie tells Sky Sports. “They say to celebrate every goal and I had just scored at Hampden. It was special with fans back and especially with my mum and dad there because they had not seen me play for a couple of years.”
It is not just the pandemic that has prevented that but Emslie’s own travels. Prior to signing for Everton Women, the 27-year-old winger had played for Orlando Pride in the United States and Melbourne City in Australia. She certainly earned her rest this summer.
“I went from the English league to the World Cup to the American league to the Australian league and back to America so I have not had a proper break for a while,” she explains.
“It meant that I went from the end of one season straight into another one and then straight into another one. Then we had Covid-19 but everyone kept training because they did not know when football was going to start again. It was good to have a break, finally.
“That summer off helps. To have a solid three weeks off and let my body recover before having a proper six-week pre-season, that has been very good for me. I feel really fit and fast. I am starting to build momentum now and feel in a good place.”
Emslie knows her own body. She studied anatomy and physiology as part of her college degree in the States. “I learned a lot from that about the different ways to train your body to reach peak fitness, anything strength and conditioning related.”
But her travels have taught her much more than that.
“In Orlando, I got to play with Marta, who I consider to be the best player in the world, which was incredible. She taught me a lot about being patient because I like to run a lot. She told me to pick my times when to use my energy. That was something I picked up from her.
“Obviously, the Americans, they will do anything it takes to win. They never take a day off, they never cut corners, they are always doing more than the average person.
“And when I was in Melbourne, the Australians were a great bunch of girls there, with a great attitude. They liked to enjoy themselves off the pitch as well as one. I think that is important. If you take it too seriously all the time, you never get to relax.”
That time abroad meant sacrifices, away from her family and beloved dogs. But it was worth it. “It has only benefited me going away. I feel more mature and experienced. I just wanted to put myself in an environment where I was going to improve as much as possible.”
The result is that Emslie – a scorer in the recent win at Reading – has returned to the Women’s Super League better than before. This is also an English game much improved since her last stint during which she won a cup double with Manchester City in 2019.
“I think the biggest difference is the television deal but everything has changed. Even just the standards of changing rooms and pitches. The pitches are quality now.
“Everyone’s pitch was terrible in the winter apart from City and Chelsea. Now, across the board, every club has a higher standard of pitch. The referees are starting to be better qualified. The game is just taken a lot more seriously now.”
Everton, in particular, have benefited from considerable investment.
“This is only my second season but I have already seen huge steps in the right direction. The facilities at Finch Farm are great. They are on par with what it was like at Manchester City. The club is investing. Instead of one strength and conditioning coach, there are three.
“I did not think we could compete with Man City, Arsenal and Chelsea because we could not pay the money to get them to come to Everton but the investment has happened this summer. Now, we have the talent. Everton are doing everything they can to get there.”
Her journey mirrors that of the coach Willie Kirk. He first worked with Emslie when she was a teenager at Hibs before linking up again at Bristol City. The pair have enjoyed each other’s success. “He says I have not changed, I still annoy him as much as I can,” jokes Emslie.
“It is funny, when I was at Hibs he had just quit his job as an accountant and I was just a little kid starting out. When I came back from America, I was with him at Bristol, which was a higher level. That was a lot more serious. Now, at Everton, it is an even higher level.”
The result is that the relationship has changed.
“We have always been an underdog team but now we are expected to win things. We need to play for results now. That is a good thing. It is where we both wanted to get to.”
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Everton began with back-to-back defeats but having followed that up with victories over Birmingham and Reading, confidence is growing. The new signings are being assimilated, Emslie’s versatility proving an asset across the forward line. Partnerships will take time.
“We have players who can play more than one position and that might be part of why we made a slow start because it is going to take time to figure out who plays well together. Realistically, it will take time to gel but we are thinking long term.”
Clearly, Emslie is not done. The hard work, exemplified by the free-kicks that she practises with either foot at the end of each training session, will continue. Ambitions remain.
“With Everton, we want to finish as high as we can. We are really challenging for those top positions. That is the aim, obviously. We want to do well in the cup too. We made Wembley last year and we are hungry to get back there. We know we have the talent.”
That strike at Hampden Park proved that.
Claire Emslie wears the adidas X Speedflow, available at adidas.co.uk/football-shoes