It is when the conversation turns to the struggle she and her United States World Cup winning teammates have faced to win the same pay as the national men’s team that you get to the intense inner core of Carli Lloyd, the finest women’s football by most measures.
Lloyd will play her part on Thursday night in Manchester City’s Champions League quarter-final against Danish side Fortuna Hjorring, beyond which lies the chance for the club to take the British women’s game to a new peak. But the fight with US Soccer Federation - which she reveals has left the players now out of contract - is her residual preoccupation. The 34-year-old’s calm articulation of the indignities faced after winning the world title, watched by a global TV audience of 750 million in 2015, reveals the fire that resides within.
A 10-game victory tour was organised for the squad which defeated Japan 5-2 in the final - with Lloyd player of the match. Yet the women found themselves playing seven of those fixtures on astro-turf – leaving her and the rest wondering exactly what they had to do to be afforded respect.
“We were playing on the 3G, as you guys call it, when the men don’t play on that at all [and that] starts to make you wonder,” she reflects. “We’d just come home as World Cup champions, but playing on this surface? The men never do. Winning the World Cup gave us more leverage. Our deal was up at the end of 2016 and we just need better standards. Men fly charter flights. We’re still packed in with regular people. The men fly first class. We’re still on coach. There’s a separation there and it’s just got to be better…”
The women claim they earn almost four times less than the men’s team’s players – around £1,200 for winning a friendly and nothing for a draw or defeat, while the men earn £4,000, even when they lose.
In Britain – land of the £250,000-a-week club player – there is not the remotest notion of parity, though in the US, it was the women who made their nation a global force in football and hence they believe they deserve equal pay. They are the ones who continually take the sport out on tour across their own country – 25 fixtures last calendar year, with only three of them outside the US – and yet who find themselves lumbered with pitiful facilities at time. A match, in Hawaii 15 months ago, was cancelled because the pitch was so poor.
“There will definitely be a resolution but both parties have to agree on some things,” Lloyd says. ”Even though we do have tonnes of resources, there are still some things that we think should be better.”
Such is the force of nature City recruited when securing Lloyd’s services on a short-term contract, before she returns to the United States to play in the US National Women’s Soccer League with Houston Dash.
No English team has ever won the women’s Champions League and no English team is left in this season’s tournament, so Lloyd – a two-times Olympic gold medal winner with few mountains left to conquer – saw the potential to play a part in the most dramatic British statement yet in the women’s game. When her American team-mate Alex Morgan headed to Europe for the Champions League, she chose the relative sanctity of three-times champions Lyons. If City successfully defend their 1-0 first leg win over the Danes, she and Morgan could face each other in the semi-final.
As we talk at City’s CFA base, Lloyd is a wearing a No 10 training top, a reminder of the superficial comparisons with Lionel Messi which tend to flow when she is under discussion. She is too intense to bask in a sense of flattery. “There are some amazing players out there - no doubt – but when you look at my overall game, I have a completeness to it,” Lloyd says. “If it requires a little bit of finesse, I can do that. If it requires a little bit of a physical battle - like this league - I can handle that. There is more of a completeness to my game. I didn’t pick the number with that intention - it was just one I had growing up. I thought “wow, some amazing players have worn the No 10”.
She says she has not closed the door on the notion of returning to City for future spells, though the fight for pay is the broader challenge. “It’s really now setting the standard for women’s soccer globally,” she says. “It’s giving countries like England and Colombia the confidence to fight for better. It’s just helping the game overall and giving other countries the ability to go: ‘Hey, if the US are doing this, then there’s no reason we can’t as well’. Colombia have tried to fight for things. Hopefully they keep doing that because then the whole game will keep going.” The Danes need no reminder of what they will be up against in Manchester on Thursday night.