Orlando (AFP) – Megan Rapinoe’s life has changed before her very eyes.
Eight months after helping the United States win a fourth women’s World Cup crown, Rapinoe is in high demand, on and off the pitch.
The 34-year-old swept the individual prizes at the World Cup, scooping the Golden Boot for top-scorer and the Golden Ball for best player.
She wrapped up 2019 by winning the women’s Ballon D’Or and the FIFA Best Women’s Player awards, an unprecedented clean sweep of honours in a single year.
The openly gay striker has also enhanced her reputation as an unflinching advocate for social justice off the field, whether it is demanding equal pay and conditions for the United States’ women’s team or sparring with President Donald Trump.
She made headlines again last year when she was honoured as one of Glamour magazine’s “Women of the Year”.
Rapinoe used her acceptance speech to draw attention to the cause of Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who ignited controversy in 2016 after kneeling during the US national anthem in a protest against racial injustice.
– ‘Dramatic changes’ –
Rapinoe admits her new life as a global sports icon has taken some getting used to.
“It’s changed dramatically,” said Rapinoe of her life since the World Cup. “It’s not in a completely different way, there are just 10 times more of everything.
“It’s been something to get used to, but I do feel I’m getting a better handle on it now.
“It was all a little overwhelming in the Fall if I’m honest.
“I don’t have too many photographers following me around, but the demands on my time are much greater and that is something that I initially struggled with.
“The opportunity for financial success right now is far greater than it was but that means more days on shoots, it means more days been given to other people and it’s less days focusing and committing to the game and my craft.
“You’ve got to roll with it, you can’t get too stressed out about it. I have an amazing team, helping me, not just the US soccer team, but also an agency that looks after the other areas of my business. That helps.”
The midfielder has a plethora of options – and wealth – available to her upon retirement, a scenario which, according to Rapinoe herself, will be analyzed at the end of this summer’s Olympic Games where a second gold medal is the aim.
– ‘A footballer first’ –
“First and foremost, I want to remain a footballer, most definitely,” she told reporters in Florida as she prepares for this week’s SheBelieves Cup
“I’m not looking to retire any time soon. I’m fully focused on the Olympics and making sure I’m prepared for that. After that, we will assess things and see where we go from there.”
For now, Rapinoe is firmly focused on this week’s challenges against World Cup semi-finalists England, 2015 World Cup finalists Japan and emerging force Spain.
Speaking of the USA’s intense rivalry with England, Rapinoe says the American women have got used to being the team everyone wants to beat.
“I think we approach every game like that,” Rapinoe said.
“We’re the ones that have the number one on our back, and the big target, but we understand that every team is gunning for us as one of their biggest games of the year.”
Rapinoe and her team-mates are approaching the SheBelieves Cup with the same sort of steely determination that marked their World Cup victory last year.
“It’s two things, once you’re preparing and getting into your season, we don’t really want to give any team anything, ever,” Rapinoe said.
“It’s important for us to not only give a good performance but to get the result that we want, as well.”
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