Olivia McLoughlin isn’t like most 18-year-olds. She signed her first professional football contract just last year with Aston Villa, having worked her way through the academy ranks, and works alongside some of the best footballers in the women’s game: Euros winner Rachel Daly and World Cup bronze medalist Jordan Nobbs - both currently representing England in Australia and New Zealand - to name just two. And was on the cusp of qualifying for Champions League football only three months ago. Olivia McLoughlin might not live a standard teenage life, but she’s living the one she’s always worked for.
The England U19 midfielder started her football career with Birmingham City where she was named the club’s U16s Players’ Player of the Year back in 2020 - that summer she joined the Villans under the then tutelage of manager Gemma Davison. Since then, McLoughlin has worked tirelessly with current gaffer (and former Blues’ boss) Carla Ward. The three-time WSL Manager of the Month was nominated for Manager of the Year after helping Villa finish fifth in the WSL - the club’s best-ever result in the topflight of English women’s football.
A loan spell back to her noisy neighbours earlier this year, ensured McLoughlin notched up some more crucial First Team minutes, but she’s back for pre-season and ready to go toe-to-toe with a side hungry to clinch European football.
VERSUS sat down with the young baller to talk about Villa’s impressive 22/23 campaign, how she prepares for a new season - with some top tips from one of football’s best duos, Rachel Daly and Millie Bright - and what she thinks of PUMA’s latest ‘Energy Pack’ boot range.
“The growth in the last two years alone has been amazing, but it’s still crazy to think we could be playing European football very, very soon.”
VERSUS: You had such a successful season with Aston Villa, despite just missing out on a Champions League spot! How did you find 22/23?
Olivia McLoughlin: I think it’s been really good, 100%! In previous years there’s been quite a significant gap between the ‘Top Four’ and the rest of the table, to a point where the Women’s Super League’s been fairly predictable. But now, seeing how we performed last season and the way we show up to games, that gap is closing and teams like Villa are pushing others more than ever before. The players we signed ahead of last season, they’ve helped out massively. They’re also not just great players, but they’re the ‘right’ people too – the team environment is so good because of that.
VERSUS: With the changes you’ve had in the squad, does it feel like there’s a new energy around the place?
Olivia: Definitely. I’ve been in the First Team for the past two years, and I’ve always loved it, but I love it even more now.
VERSUS: What would you say was a ‘standout moment’ for you last season?
Olivia: Obviously, I went on loan in January. But, before that, I managed to start in a few games against the likes of Arsenal, which was a really great feeling. But yeah, I’m so proud of the girls despite being away.
VERSUS: Do you feel like that loan move gave you a new outlook on football?
Olivia: Yeah! I think it’s really important to get minutes at my age, and I also think when I was away it made me realise just how much I love Villa, and the passion I have for the club off the pitch as well as on it.
VERSUS: Being away from the team while they achieved what they did last season – their best WSL finish – as much as you were proud of them, did it also make you hungry to be back amongst it?
Olivia: 100%. Since I’ve come back, the standards in training have been crazy! I was a little nervous coming back but quickly realised that if I want to be at that level, fighting for the Top Four, I need to be prepared to always be at my best.
VERSUS: Champions League football is a very real dream for the club, if not this season coming, then in a few seasons time. Have you thought about it at all?
Olivia: I have a little bit, which is quite crazy to say. We had such a good season just gone, compared to the one previous where we finished ninth, which wasn’t where we wanted to finish. So the growth in the last two years alone has been amazing, but it is still crazy to think that we could be playing European football very, very soon. I am really excited by that, though.