There’s never been a better time to be a woman in football but according to Chelsea’s Norwegian superstar Maren Mjelde - and the UK is the place to be, writes Ella Jerman.
The highly-rated Norway captain joined Chelsea ahead of the FA WSL Spring Series back in January 2017 - a time when the top division still maintained a part-time, semi-professional set-up, supporters were found few and far between and women’s football, in general, sat on the periphery of sporting conversation.
But fast forward two and a half years and Mjelde is playing full-time in the professional Barclays FA Women’s Super League for the Blues in front of a crowd of 24,564 at Stamford Bridge.
After the success of the Women’s World Cup in the summer, with England’s semi-final loss to the USA attracting the highest live TV audience of 2019 so far with 11.7m, Mjelde believes the Women’s Super League is only going to continue going from strength to strength – and the Chelsea centre-back can’t wait to be part of the action.
“Everyone is asking about the English league at the moment,” said Mjelde.
“I have experienced different leagues, having played in Germany, Sweden and Norway and I can honestly say this is the most competitive league I’ve competed in so far.
“Everyone is asking me about it because of the quality of the sides involved. It’s brilliant to have competitive clubs like Manchester Untied and Tottenham coming up to compete. They’re big clubs which makes the league more exciting.
“Playing against Tottenham at Stamford Bridge was the perfect way to start our season. It shows how far the women’s game has grown in England and how it is becoming increasingly popular.
“If the Women’s Super League isn’t already the best league in the world, it’s going to be, for sure.”
@MarenMjelde Congratulations! You have been selected for the @FIFAcom @FIFPro #World11 shortlist by your fellow professional footballers. 👏— FIFPRO (@FIFPro) September 4, 2019
👀👇https://t.co/vOtfStiryu #FIFAFootballAwards #TheBest #OneStage pic.twitter.com/rslWhPtkNb
Mjelde is one of many Chelsea players returning to the Women’s Super League after representing their country at the Women’s World Cup this summer.
Fran Kirby, Millie Bright and Carly Telford all featured for England in France, Erin Cuthbert made her name known on the world stage for Scotland, Magdalena Eriksson and Jonna Andersson were both part of Sweden’s bronze-winning team, while Maria Thorisdottir and new signing Guro Reiten lined up alongside Mjelde for Norway.
A total of 12 Chelsea players were in action at this summer’s tournament, yet some saw a lot more of each other than others.
Mjelde was up against some familiar faces when she featured for Norway in their 3-0 quarter-final loss to England but despite the disappointment of the defeat, she could not hide her pride at her fellow Chelsea teammates’ success.
“Before the World Cup, I knew there was a strong chance I would end up facing some of my teammates,” she added.
“The knock-out match against England was hard, we always knew some of us were going to be happy and some were going to be upset. It’s always hard to lose, though, no matter who you are playing against.
“England were better than us on the day. It was hard because we had been in France for six weeks and then suddenly, you’re out of the tournament.
“I was rooting for England to do well afterwards. They have a great team. I’m happy some of our players from Sweden came home with a medal too.
“No matter where we finished, the World Cup was really important for all of us.
“We definitely saw the impact of the World Cup in Norway. We hadn’t had the best results since the Euros, but so many people have been watching our games and it has become more popular than ever.
“When I was home, everyone I met was talking about women’s football and I think the same can be said for all the nations involved.”
England brought women’s football to the forefront of the nation’s attention by reaching the Women’s World Cup semi-final back in June, meaning more eyes than ever before will be watching the top domestic teams.
Despite enjoying a successful run to the UEFA Women’s Champions League semi-finals, where they were knocked out by eventual champions Lyon, Mjelde and Chelsea will be looking to improve on last season’s third-place finish in 2019/20.
Last year, Emma Hayes’ side did not reach either domestic cup final and finished 12 points behind champions Arsenal. It was a stark contrast to their 2017/18 success, when they won the league and FA Cup double.
For Mjelde, this season isn’t just about closing the gap on their rivals – it’s all about bringing silverware back to West London.
“We want to win something this year,” added Mjelde.
“It was disappointing for us last season to not win any trophies or qualify for the Champions League. We’re Chelsea, we always want to win.
“We have a lot of players who returned from the World Cup and have since been out on international duty, so we are all coming in at different times, but we all know we have a lot to play for this season.
“We are gutted to not be in the Champions League because we want to be playing against the best, so our goal this year will be to do as well as we can to get back there.”
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