A new three-year contract is the perfect way for Maren Mjelde to celebrate winning her first Double for Chelsea Women.
The Norwegian captain was one of the Blues’ key players this season as we won both the FA Cup and WSL1 title, with only Fran Kirby making more appearances in all competitions, and she was equally adept in an all-action midfield role as she was playing as a sweeper at the heart of our back three.
Having tasted success for the first time as a professional footballer during her time in England, Mjelde is keen to keep pushing both herself and the club onto bigger and better things, which she’ll have the opportunity to do after agreeing an extension to her contract until the summer of 2021.
We spoke to her about the future, as well as discussing some of the key moments in what has been an incredible campaign at Kingsmeadow.
Perhaps the biggest compliment we can pay you is to say you’ve been here for less than 18 months, yet it’s hard to remember a time when you weren’t here...
I know, I definitely feel I have been with Chelsea so much longer! When I moved here I felt so ready for it. I’ve played in Sweden and Germany, so I know it’s hard to move away from home, but this time it was not. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit older, but I set myself some goals to win things and I knew I could achieve this with Chelsea. Also it’s how the club welcomed me – the players, the staff and everyone just made me feel so welcome right from the start.
Extending your contract by three years is a big commitment to make.
It’s a really big commitment, but as I said, I’ve felt so welcome here. We’ve already won three trophies, which is more than I’ve won in my entire life – I’d never won anything before that. So coming to Chelsea was a good step for me to take and still I feel like I can become a better player here. That was one of the main reasons for making this choice.
It’s been a great season for the club. How do you reflect on these achievements?
I’m very proud. It’s been a good year – we’ve made history. We scored over 100 goals, which is really good, and we went unbeaten in the league. I’ve never been in a team where we don’t lose, I’ve always been in an outsider team where you can beat the best and then you drop points against other teams, which is hard. After we lost our Continental Cup semi-final against Man City, nobody wanted to feel like that again and we didn’t experience it domestically.
You were so consistent this season, both individually and as a team. Is that one of your biggest strengths?
I think I’m quite stable in my performances. I hate to lose and I hate playing badly. I know when I have done. I like to reflect a lot. People could come over to me and say: “You’ve played a really good game,” but I can be honest with myself and I can always think of things I should have done better. I’m not negative, but I’m a realist and I’ll always reflect honestly on my performances.
What are your other major strengths as a footballer?
I think over the last few years I’ve been more and more calm. I think I can bring that into the team, by not panicking, showing my team-mates that we don’t have to stress in the game. So maybe I lead in that way, but also by example – if I need to do the hard work, I will always do it.
This season you split your time between midfield and as a sweeper. Which position do you prefer?
I think this has been a funny thing for the players this year. Everyone knows I love playing midfield, so when I’ve played at centre-back some people start to laugh! I’ll always put the team first and if me playing as a defender is best for the team, I’ll do that.
I think the more games I’ve played there, I’ve made it my own role. I think I can adapt to both, as long as we can mix it up a bit. I played some games at the end in midfield.
Your calmness and composure on the ball, allied to your reading of the game and tenacity, are all qualities that are perfect for a sweeper...
I really like playing as a defender in games where I can be challenged, both offensively and defensively. I love to have the ball and be a part of the offensive game, I really like to be involved. In the games where I’m not, I need to try and involve myself in other ways by trying to lead, trying to communicate, to try and keep the players going.
As a sweeper, sometimes you are involved and sometimes not, but you’re the last person before the goalkeeper so you need to control the whole game, even if you don’t touch the ball.
It’s a position where you have to show a lot of leadership...
Yeah, maybe. I need to tell other players what to do before I can do things myself, in a way. But I have the time to do it as a sweeper. People often say sweeper is the easiest position on the pitch, but at the same time it’s not. It’s complicated. You don’t do much running, often, sometimes you do, but there are many times when your decision has to be perfect, otherwise you concede.
The attacking play should start from you, too...
Exactly. It’s a complex role and I’ve learned a lot playing it these past few months. I’ve had really good moments playing there, but I also love playing midfield.
So, tell us how you ended up on the left wing in the final seconds against Birmingham City to set up Erin Cuthbert’s last-minute winner in one of our crucial final league fixtures?
I played sweeper almost the whole game and I had a lot of energy; I was frustrated because I really wanted the team to win, and we were not at our best. So I just thought: “I’m going to go for it and see what happens.” I felt their right-back wasn’t being pressed enough the whole game, so I just thought I’d go for it and if it doesn’t work, fine. But I need to try. She made a mistake and we got the goal.
And that game was so important in terms of us winning the league.
Yeah, really important. That was a game we needed to win. It was straight after the cup final and that’s maybe the hardest of the year – after such a big game against Arsenal it’s a bit of an anti-climax to go back to playing in front of a smaller crowd.
The game was not good, but we showed what we’re made of. I think we’ve been doing that throughout the end of the season. Even against Liverpool in the last game, I think a lot of people were watching that game and not expecting much from us because we’d won the league already.
We didn’t really show up in the first half, so Paul Green had a good go at us at half-time, which we deserved, and we came together to talk through some things and what we should do. We felt like a better team in the second half and Ji came in and had a massive impact on the game. She’s a game-changer – I’m glad she’s staying, of course. So it was good to end the season like that, coming back from losing 2-0 to win 3-2. I think the second half showed what we are made of; we’re champions and we deserve to be.
Let’s not forget we made a big step this season in the Champions League, making it all the way to the semi-finals. The Bayern tie, which feels like a lifetime ago, was one of the best moments of the campaign, wasn’t it?
Yes. We had to work a lot, the away leg was one of our hardest games of the year and we needed a bit of luck. But we were able to score that good away goal, which was really important for us.
Looking back it has been a really good year, but now we need to focus on the next. We can enjoy what we’ve done, but we need to come back for pre-season and it’s a fresh start again.
We’ve said goodbye to a few big names already, but at the same time nearly all of our key players this season have signed contract extensions. That must be a good sign?
It’s a really good place to be and that’s why people are re-signing. The girls really want to win and this is a good club to be at. I’m so glad every time I see another of the girls signing a contract. That was also a reason for me to stay.
I’ve been at clubs where players are leaving after one year and there is no consistency. That makes it hard and then you need to start over again. Now, when Paul and Emma are getting players to extend, we can build some more. We don’t need to keep starting from scratch.
Look at the success of our Champions League conquerors, Wolfsburg – it’s built on similar principles.
Exactly. That’s how you can maybe eventually come to a Champions League final. That’s definitely the next step for us and something I’d like to achieve here.