The pursuit of happiness: A journey from Man City to Oz

Inspired by a pursuit of happiness over football, Mie Leth Jans has arrived for an Australian adventure. The Danish international reflects on her journey with Matt Comito.

Mie Leth Jans signed a “dream” two-year contract at Manchester City in 2017, but only managed a handful of games for the English giants before putting that dream on hold. 

When both of your parents are diagnosed with cancer, in a different country, priorities change fast.

The Danish international was relishing her first taste of the professional game, teaching herself to put football ahead of her studies – the antithesis of what had been drummed into the 22-year-old until her first overseas move.

The standards were raised, the facilities were incredible, and Leth Jans had everything she’d ever dreamt of in a footballing career – until a double dose of personal hardship forced the young Danish star to reevaluate what she held dearest.

“All my life, with education back home in Denmark, you’re raised to take your education and do your sport on the side, that’s the thing you do,” Leth Jans told KEEPUP.

“All of a sudden to be allowed to swap it around so you’re a footballer first, that took me a while to relax into that role. 

“I was so impressed by the (English) media, and even people in the stands who were singing songs about the players, it was very different. 

“I learned a great deal in Manchester, about how to be a professional. Getting over there was a dream come true, to become a professional player. The whole setup there was amazing, it was better than I could’ve dreamt of.

“The change going from prioritising my school before football to being allowed, and it was expected of me, to do the opposite, that was such a big change for me.

“But on a personal level, both of my parents got sick with cancer. 

“That was actually the reason for me to leave the club. My mum is fine nowadays, but shortly after my father got diagnosed he actually died 10 days later.

“After that, I just realised in a way that I loved football, but I couldn’t be happy without being close to my family. Being so far away from your parents when they get ill, that’s just not nice. In a way, I still take all of that with me.

“When I was 22 signing at City, all I had in my mind was wanting to be a professional football player. I loved (everyone) at home but didn’t care if I was close to them or not. Whereas after that happened I thought, ‘Yeah, I still want to take on everything I’ve learned from football, I want to be a professional, but I need to combine it with being close to my friends and family’.

“From them getting cancer, I learned I needed a setup outside of football, and I need to be close to family and friends to become the footballer I want to.

“From that point, football was not the most important for me anymore, it was to be happy. To be good at football I need to be happy outside.

Leth Jans during her brief time at Manchester City.

Leth Jans grew up in Dragør, a short drive from Copenhagen, the Danish capital. Her older brother played football, as did her childhood friends, leaving Leth Jans with little choice but to fall in love with the game herself. 

She grew through the earliest years of her life playing amongst the boys. Her ultimate goal? To play for the men’s national team. 

It wasn’t until her teens that she first saw a pathway into the women’s game.

Leth Jans challenges former Matilda Lisa De Vanna in the Women’s Algarve Cup Tournament match between Australia and Denmark in 2017.

Leth Jans began to climb through the ranks of Denmark’s international age-grade sides, when she was advised to join Danish side Brøndby. It was at her new club where Leth Jans first met her Australian ‘big sister’, Aivi Luik. 

“As a 17-year-old I moved to the A-team in Brøndby. I wasn’t playing at all, I was just sitting on the bench getting hard skin on my arse, to be honest,” she laughed. “But it was fair enough, I had to beat better players. I was young, but when you’re young you just want to play, you don’t see the reason for you to sit on the bench.

“That year I played with Michelle Heyman and Aivi Luik, they were the first Australians I played with.

“It was an eye-opener for me. I was like: ‘Why on earth are you guys coming to Denmark? Why do you come to our league, and why do you want to play here?’ 

“From their point of view they were coming for an experience and to play in the Champions League, because we always played in the Champions League every single year.

“They were nice, they were funny. Aivi was so nice to me, she was like a big sister.

“Since then, I’ve actually played with players who know Aivi really well, so it’s kind of funny how small the world is sometimes. It’s so cool other people have the same impression of her that I have.

“There were a lot of girls in that team looking out for me, but I looked up to her because she was always so nice, and understood it was difficult to be young, and not playing as much as you wanted to. 

“She was just so funny to be around, so it was good for me to be around someone who could joke a lot, and had a lot of different life experiences. I was listening a lot to her, and trying to learn from her in a way.”

Luik in action for Melbourne City during the formerly-named W-League in March, 2020.

“They were both really, really good players,” she continued. “They worked so hard every single day. Michelle, every single time she got the ball she ran and scored goals. I was so impressed by both of them.

“That was a big experience for me. I have been watching them since on Instagram and things like that, and it’s amazing (to see) their careers and where they’ve gotten to today.”

Leth Jans heeded Luik’s advice, and waited for her moment to break into the Brøndby first team, studying physiotherapy from the early morning until the afternoon each day before joining her Brønbdy teammates for training in the evenings. She would go on to feature prominently in the senior side, whilst becoming an important member of the Danish international side. 

Leth Jans sealed her City move off her Brøndby form, but the subsequent diagnoses for her parents eventually saw her return to Scandinavia to be closer to family and friends. 

Leth Jans celebrates with supporters after the UEFA Women’s Champions League quarter-final match between Linkopings FC and Brondby IF in March, 2015.

She would play for Swedish sides FC Rosengård and Vittsjö GIK before plucking up the courage to venture further from home once more, travelling across the world to join Perth Glory ahead of the 2021/22 Liberty A-League season.

It’s an adventure which contradicts Leth Jans’ decision to put proximity to family ahead of her wanderlust. But with time comes the healing of old wounds, and the willingness of Leth Jans to dip her toes back into the water, if only for a mere matter of months.

It’s a delicate balance between her two worlds offered up by the Liberty A-League which encouraged Leth Jans to try again. 

“It sounds so funny to say I need to be close to my family and then travel around the world,” she said.

“I have a husband back home, and we’ve been together for nine and a half years now and been married for one and a half.  He went with me to Manchester and has always respected me choosing football, but after all of this happened I wanted to be closer to him and also have that physio education – I (now) work at a clinic back home.

“To have all of that outside of football, and still combine it with football, it doesn’t work out for me to make a long-term contract… (but) going here for four or five months gives me an experience, and something I’ve dreamt of for a lot of years.

“I get away, try that professional life, experience something new, but it’s not for one year, it’s not for two, it’s just a short period of time.

“That’s why I decided to go to Australia, it seemed like the best solution for me to combine being the professional, the daughter, the friend, the wife, and the physiotherapist back home.”

Leth Jans poses on the South Perth foreshore ahead of the 2021/22 Liberty A-League season.