First Words: Ali Riley

With the signing of Ali Riley now complete, Chelsea Women’s latest recruit has spoken about her move to England.

It was announced last month that the 30-year-old New Zealand international would be joining the WSL champions and Women’s FA Cup holders when the season in Sweden reached its mid-season break. Riley has now switched from Rosengard, having been part of the team there that played against Chelsea last season in the Women’s Champions League.

She has been signed to play as a wing-back and although predominantly right-footed, she can operate down either flank. She is the captain of the New Zealand side having made her debut in 2007 and played at three World Cups and two Olympics.

Riley was born in California and began her club career in the United States where she was twice a league champion, before moving to Sweden in 2012 where she has won three league titles.

Chelsea Women manager Emma Hayes is pleased with the latest addition to her squad:

‘I have watched Ali play since she was in college and all through her pro career,’ she said. ‘I recruited her to play in the championship-winning team at Western New York Flash so I know all about Ali’s qualities over the past 10-plus years. She has always been in a winning team, she has an unbelievable engine, she will run all day for fun. I have learnt that her parents are both marathon runners and I am not surprised.

‘She has exceptional experience, wonderful character, wonderful qualities which I think will take us to another level.’

Riley is anticipating the move and the new challenge will also raise her game, as she explains in the interview below…

Welcome to Chelsea Ali, how do you feel?

I am so excited to be here and to join this amazing club. It just feels really, really good.

You have played all around the globe. Why England, why now, why Chelsea?

From everything I see, it feels like this is where it is at for women’s football. Seeing what Chelsea have achieved and what their ambitions are really matches what I dream of for my career. I just love how they are putting women’s football on the map. I think Chelsea of all the clubs is doing such an amazing job with that and that is important to me.

It is definitely going to be competitive and I love a challenge. Coming in to try to do something even better than this club achieved last year will definitely be a challenge, but that is what I want to do and speaking to everyone around the club, they want to win the Treble and that is my goal as well.

Did they impress you when they played you in the Champions League last season?

Definitely, and obviously it was tough at the time being on the losing end of that but I have seen where this club has gone from where it started, and where it is going, and I was so impressed. I wanted to be a part of it, so here I am.

[Former Rosengard team-mates] Ramona Bachmann and Anita Asante have both said incredible things about the club, about Emma and about Paul [Green] and really encouraged me to try to make this change. I have had an amazing career in Sweden and have loved every second of it, and I would only make this move if I knew it was going to take my game to the next level and be a place where I can really see myself developing, becoming a better player and winning even more championships.

What sort of player are we getting?

I like to run, which Emma has told me will fit well into that wing-back position, and I have a lot of experience with the national team. I like to have a leadership role and communicate and seeing how Chelsea plays, having their wide players attacking all day long and going up and down the field, that is what I love to do.

Have you checked out the competition in those positions?

I followed the team even before I was talking with the club and that is why I am so excited about this. That is why it is going to be a challenge. The club has great players in every position and it is just going to make me even better.

Tell us how you went from growing up in America to playing for New Zealand to being at a European club.

It has been a bit crazy. I have had a really unique journey coming from LA and never playing with the national team, and then finding out that New Zealand was investing in the women’s game and playing with the Under-20 team there, which is how the connection with New Zealand came about. I have citizenship through my dad but having never lived in New Zealand. In 2006, I started playing with the New Zealand Under-23 team and then continued on into the full team.

I grew up in LA, went to Stanford for college, got drafted into the American league and Emma was the general manager of my second club. Then the whole league folded and I had no team for six months. All the transfer windows had closed apart from Sweden but no one needed a full-back. Then at Rosengard or Malmo as they were called then, their left-back tore an ACL and Caroline Seger, captain of the Swedish team, had played for my team in New York and she was back in Sweden. So when this crisis happened she said she knew a left-back and they called me up.

I knew nothing about Sweden and this team but I came over on a three-month contract and six-and-a-half years later I was still there. I just loved the club and being in European football and playing Champions League. The Swedish League has been a really strong league for many years and then getting Swedish citizenship opened up the possibility of playing for other European clubs. Seeing what Chelsea has done in the Champions League and what England is doing for the women’s game got me excited about going for another move and new adventure, so that is how I found myself here.

So the European lifestyle suits you?

Yes, definitely. The quality of life in Scandinavia has been amazing and I love that you can travel around Europe, it is so close and football-wise, the Champions League is the be all and end all. There is nothing like it and even if women’s football is not in everybody’s minds, if you say you play Champions league, that resonates with people, that it is the real deal that women play Champions League. I love how big football is here and that women’s football is becoming so big in England

It is hard living so far away from parents and I will be leaving my boyfriend in Sweden to move here but in football, you have to take your chance and have new adventures and this is definitely the right place for me to be.