Daniels: I went from nothing to everything
Yana Daniels eyeing play-off passage to France 2019 with Belgium
Striker endured two years on the sidelines with career-threatening knee injury
Spent time as a zoo keeper while recovering from multiple surgeries
“Football genes never go away.”
Yana Daniels says so in a matter-of-fact fashion, but the road she’s trodden to be battling for a FIFA Women's World Cup place shows the drive and desire to play is truly in her DNA.
A 3-0 win over Club Brugge for her then side FC Twente back in March 2015 could so easily have been the Belgium international's last game. “I tore my lateral cruciate ligament for a third time and I knew I would need three surgeries to get it corrected,” she recalled with FIFA.com, “and that it would take two years.”
A prognosis like that is a hammer blow for anyone who loves what they do, and even more so for a 22-year-old just coming to the end of their studies and considering their options in the world. The only way to stop the recurring injuries was to break her leg, realign it, fix the knee ligament again and then hope.
“I had to relearn to walk three times in two years, so that was tough. I spent months in a wheelchair, crutches, the lot,” the Liverpool and Red Flames forward explained, harking back to the long, hard months of rehab. “It’s just difficult because you build up and need a new surgery, then build up again before another one.”
Such was the frustration, football fell from her focus and Daniels took up work elsewhere, latterly as a bus driver, but first as a zoo keeper. That was just what she needed.
“It was lovely! I worked in a zoo for half a year with the elephants and I loved it, to be honest!” she exclaimed. Daniels had seen the opportunity at Planckendael Zoo – between Antwerp and Brussels – after finishing her exams, and thought “Why not?”
“It turned out to be quite good rehab as you have to walk and stand around. Elephants are quite hard work so it’s good for fitness!”
Once fully recovered, Daniels’s return was spectacularly quick and – with Belgium’s first UEFA Women’s EURO on the horizon – extremely timely. “I was playing football again in January and the squads were announced in June, so I only had six months to be back at the top level.”
Driving dreams forward
Before 2017 Belgium had never been to a major tournament, and hardly been close, in 18 qualification campaigns
“As a kid you’re not really dreaming of it in Belgium, because it was so far away. But now it’s coming so much closer you start dreaming”
Perceptions are now changing after their debut showing at the 2017 UEFA Women's EURO
“So many little girls have started playing football now and it’s nice to see a lot of little supporters next to the field. There are already a lot more supporters – around 4-5,000 – when before it was just 1-2,000”
Since delighting in her EURO experience, things have gone at full throttle for Daniels. She signed for Bristol Academy in the English Women’s Super League, then joined Liverpool and now only the play-offs separate the Red Flames from a first ever Women’s World Cup.
“I went from nothing to everything. If you had told me two years ago that I’d be playing for Liverpool I’d have said you were insane.”
But Switzerland, who made their debut at Canada 2015, will prove a stiff semi-final test. “Switzerland have such a range of talented individual players, whereas our strengths really lie in us being a really good team," she said. “If we can get a good result against Switzerland at home it will give us much more confidence. Then we’ll be able to play the game we want to away from home.”
But whatever the outcome, Daniels is simply thrilled to be enjoying life in the world of football. “I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to do this all again.”
Daniels with her elephant enclosure co-workers