Mary Earps doesn’t want to be misunderstood but Manchester United’s goalkeeper no longer cares if she is.
The 27-year-old has a reputation for being a joker off the pitch. It can influence the way people view her as a footballer but there is a lesser-known seriousness and intelligence to Earps that underpins her bubbly persona.
“I’d like to think that people can tell that I have football running through me,” says Earps, who has signed a new two-year contract with option of a further year. “I eat, sleep, breathe the game. I dream the game.
“Pretty much everything I do revolves around my football career: watching football, studying football, watching games back, training, thinking about how can I improve myself in any small way. I do have a quite big personality, I am a bit of a joker, I but I think if anybody gets it twisted around that I am any less focused on it then they couldn’t have me more wrong.”
That is what comes with being in the spotlight, though. “People don’t really know you as well as they think they do,” she says.
Such dedication to her craft means Earps can even put a positive spin on missing out on a call-up to the most recent England camp. “We all know that I’d much rather be away,” she says. “But I’m a bit of a selfish trainer so the less players the better, because then I can ask more questions.”
Earps has an information management and business studies degree from Loughborough University and in the first lockdown she revisited those subjects, with United’s help.
“I did do a refresher on entrepreneurship and a business course, so that was definitely fun,” she says – strangely being serious. She also started listening to German podcasts to try to boost her German after spending the 2018-19 season with the Bundesliga champions Wolfsburg.
That stay yielded only four starts but the Nottingham-born Earps had swapped Reading for the club closest to competing with the European champions Lyon and was training with some of the best players in the world, including Pernille Harder, a two-times European player of the year now with Chelsea. It toughened Earps and developed her as a person.
“No one will really understand what living in another country gives you unless you actually do it,” she says. “It helps you, I don’t want to say the word mature, but just find out who you are, what you are passionate about and what you want to do. In the last year or two I’ve found I am so much more comfortable in saying: ‘I actually don’t like that and I don’t care for your opinion.’
“I struggled more with that when I was younger. Now I’m just in a place where I know I’m not everyone’s cup of tea and I kind of accept that. I appreciate anybody who shows me love and support and appreciates what I bring to the table.”
As one of the senior players at United Earps has to bring a lot to the table. The arrival of the World Cup winners Christen Press and Tobin Heath helped share that load more evenly through the squad.
“As a goalkeeper, one of the hardest parts is, regardless of your experience and how much you tried to be connected to the play, that the reality of it is you’re all the way at the back. So having people higher up the pitch that are able to influence more people at once, maybe some of the younger players, who haven’t felt what’s needed, is so helpful.”
Now that experience is really needed. United have suffered back-to-back defeats by Reading and Manchester City that have dented hopes of a title challenge and put a Champions League place at risk. They sit six points behind the leaders, Chelsea. “We’re all hugely disappointed with it and it’s a new feeling for us this season,” Earps says.
“I always like to give myself a little bit of time to be irritated, or frustrated or mopey. And then when that time is over, you you forget it and move on; you have to have a really short-term memory with these things. Because football is a crazy game that changes all the time. You’re only as good as your next game – that’s the way I always see things. In goalkeeping, you’re only as good as your next save.”
There is still hope too. “I don’t think anyone is unbeatable and that’s what’s so great about this league – it’s interesting. I love that, I love that you can’t take your foot off the gas, you can’t slip a single percent because a team will punish you. And I think that’s such a nice place for the league to be.”