Shortly after the final whistle at Bramall Lane on Tuesday night, Mary Earps received a congratulatory message from David de Gea.
England had just crushed Sweden 4-0 to reach the Euro 2022 final, but that scoreline could have been very different if goalkeeper Sarina Wiegman hadn’t contributed some superlative-defying early saves.
Although Earps and his male counterpart at Manchester United do not train together, they support each other and remain in regular contact. “David just texted me congratulating me,” she reported, beaming with suggestions that her first save, made with an outstretched left leg to prevent Sofia Jakobsson in the opening 30 seconds, looked straight out of the box. from De Gea’s playbook.
“I’ll take that comparison, no problem at all,” said the 29-year-old, who isn’t afraid to dip into the Spanish keeper’s head. “Me and David talk a bit. We message about results and clean sheets and everything. 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 juggling part-time, low-paying jobs in order to earn the money to get to training at Doncaster Belles.
Ten years ago, the Nottingham-born keeper never thought she would earn a full-time living from football and, eyeing a career in commerce, completed a degree in information management and commerce at Loughborough University.
Although football remains her first love, she is fascinated by business and during the lockdown she persuaded United to allow her to take a special course in entrepreneurship. She also went deeper into German, having acquired it when she was a reserve goalkeeper at Wolfsburg in the 2018-2019 season.
“I eat, sleep, dream and breathe football,” she said. “But I am also fascinated by business. During the first lockdown, Earps particularly – and generally – enjoyed reading Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad. However, at this point, she seemed resigned to never rising above understudy status in the international goalkeeping hierarchy.
After making her international debut under Mark Sampson in 2017, she went to the 2019 World Cup in France as Phil Neville’s third-choice keeper and arguably climbed the rankings under Wiegman solely because of the serious injury which forced Manchester City’s Ellie Roebuck to miss the first half of last season.
Once Roebuck recovered, Wiegman went through a rotation period, Hannah Hampton and Aston Villa’s Earps in goal. When the United keeper was confirmed as the first choice for Euro 2022, some critics questioned the England manager’s judgement.
Earps baffled them by keeping four clean sheets in five tournament games. His all-around excellence was epitomized by the moment in the semi-final when Stina Blackstenius’ shot appeared on an unstoppable trajectory towards the top corner, only for Earps to perform acrobatic wonders and knock him down.
At this point, it became abundantly clear how far Earps had come since France 2019, when his predominant contribution to the England squad was a penchant for indulging in practical, morale-boosting jokes.
At the time, she felt “entitled to nothing” and, when Neville later abandoned her altogether, she received no complaints from the public. “I thought a lot that, ‘Yeah, that’s probably the end of the international road for me,'” Earps said. “I never expected anything more.”
Wiegman, however, acknowledged the quality and constant improvement of a goalkeeper who, despite spending this season at Wolfsburg largely on the bench, has learned a lot playing against attackers of the caliber of the club. Danish striker Pernille Harder in training.
It also helped that after years of frequent transfers – with spells at Birmingham, Bristol City and Reading following his spell at Doncaster – United offered him the stability of a longer-term contract.
Even so, Tuesday felt like a player, who takes her job so seriously that she has a special monitor to gauge her sleep quality, couldn’t quite believe the magnitude of her recent makeover. “I love playing at this level,” she said.
“It’s such a fantastic feeling. I am so proud to be part of this England team.
“My team-mates have said great things – amazing things – about me and that just means the world. I want to be the best I can be for them.
Not that she was ever one to skip homework. The woman who, during her stint at Doncaster Belles, worked part-time in a cinema now spends countless hours studying the small screen in her living room.
“I watch as much TV football as I can,” Earps said. “I watch a lot of Premier League games but I also study goalkeepers around the world. It’s really important as a goalkeeper that you develop your own style because not everything works. You can see something in the television, but it may not work for you; everyone is built differently, we all have different strengths.
It’s England’s luck that Wiegman has identified an exceptional goalkeeper talent that other managers hadn’t fully detected.