Nicoline Sørensen is on a twin mission. The Denmark forward wants to propel Everton into Europe while also taking every opportunity to help make science a more accessible, and fashionable, career choice for young women.
Away from the pitch, Sørensen spends at least 25 hours a week as a remote-based innovation engineering student with the Technical University of Denmark and her eyes light up when she is asked to outline what this speciality entails.
The abbreviated answer is that it involves challenging scientific tradition. It is all about finding new ways to do things, typically by developing innovative techniques and products to solve problems and satisfy the latest global demands. The high-speed trains under development in China which use an electromagnetic levitation technique to “float” above conventional rail tracks constitute a prime example.
“Innovation engineering’s really exciting,” enthuses Sorensen via Zoom. “It’s a lot about optimising new and different products and collaborating with different companies. It’s nice that I can combine my course with playing professionally because it’s really important for me to feel that I’m more than just a footballer; that I have something else in my life.”
Although it seems important to emphasise that the 23-year-old adores playing for Willie Kirk’s team and is fully committed to helping Everton challenge for the top three next season, Sørensen knows she will not be able to remain at the highest level for much more than another decade. Plotting a pathway towards a fulfilling life after football makes eminent sense.
Moreover she feels innovation engineering helps her game. “There’s definitely some correlation between my studies and the way I play,” Sorensen says. “I’m used to thinking: ‘How can I optimise this? How can I do this even better?’ So the mindset from my studies, the way I’m taught to see things and solve problems, really benefits me on the pitch.
“Women who are involved in science should talk about it. There’s a lot of educational courses and jobs out there involving things girls don’t even realise they could be doing. A lot of what needs to happen in order to change things is for those already working in science to just talk to people about it; to let them know what jobs are possible and how it all works.
“When I talk to people about my studies, everyone says it sounds so exciting and interesting but they hadn’t known anything about it before. It’s about making people aware it can be quite cool to be an engineer.”
Although Sørensen relishes playing as a winger, and dribbling at defenders in particular, her football brain means she can play anywhere across the frontline. During a debut season in the Women’s Super League punctuated by local and then national lockdowns, similar adaptability has been required off the pitch.
“It’s been hard – and different from what we were expecting,” says the former Brøndby forward. “Apart from five days in August I haven’t seen my parents at all. I remember talking to them before I signed in July and saying: ‘You’ll be able to fly over from Copenhagen for weekends and to watch games.’ But then Covid came back.
“Luckily the Danish insurance company my boyfriend is employed by allow him to work remotely so he’s been over here with me all the time. I know I’ve had it quite good compared to a lot of overseas players but it’s still been a strange, difficult year. What I miss most is the experience of playing football in front of fans; I can’t wait to have them back in the stadium and to be able to finally meet them.”
Pandemic-induced problems aside, Sørensen has no regrets about her choice of club or city. “I like Liverpool a lot,” she says. “There’s so much waterfront, it reminds me of Copenhagen. I spend hours just walking around this city and exploring; it’s so cool.”
Life at Everton compares favourably to an earlier, unhappy, stint playing for Linköping in southern Sweden, where she suffered loneliness exacerbated by assorted problems with accommodation, infrastructure and inadequate communication.
“I had a bad time in Sweden but it’s definitely been much easier to fit in at Everton,” she says. “I felt from the very first minute it was like home. Everyone’s been so lovely and helpful and looked after us really well.”
Sørensen can speak four languages – Danish, Swedish, English and Norwegian – but she has rarely encountered as effective a communicator as Everton’s Scottish manager. “Willie Kirk’s been really good,” she says. “The feedback from him, that dialogue he has with you, is really important for me. I’ve feel I’ve developed so much in the past year.
“Now I just can’t wait for everything to go back to normal and find out what it’s like playing and living here in the ‘real’ world. I can’t wait to be able to go and see the Lake District, to explore Manchester more and to visit friends playing for other clubs in England. It’s going to be really nice to do all those sorts of things.”
Get to know the players in England’s top flight better with our WSL player in focus series. Read all our interviews here.