Ji So-Yun was a pivotal member of the Chelsea side which won the Double in 2017/18, ending the campaign as the club's second-highest scorer.
The South Korean midfielder joined the club from Japanese side INAC Kobe Leonessa, for whom she starred in a win over Chelsea in the final of the 2013 International Women's Club Championship (IWCC) in Tokyo.
A four-time winner of her country’s Footballer of the Year award, Ji became the first South Korean to play in the FA Women’s Super League and proved to be an instant hit during her debut campaign in 2014. Few players in the women’s game are blessed with the deft touch, vision, weight of pass and, most crucially, eye for goal that Ji possesses.
By the end of her first season in England she had almost helped a side which finished near the bottom of the table in 2013 become champions of England, with the highlight of her campaign coming against Arsenal with a sublime last-minute winner. Although the Blues narrowly missed out on glory, Ji won the FA WSL Player of the Year prize, as well as making it a Chelsea double at the PFA awards as she collected the Players' Player of the Year honour alongside Eden Hazard.
A first season which yielded nine goals from 19 appearances was just a taster of what was to come in 2015. Ji played a starring role as the Ladies ended their wait for a major honour after the Women’s World Cup mid-season, during which she had featured regularly for her country as they reached the knockout phase.
An FA Women’s Cup semi-final winner against Manchester City was followed up by the only goal of the final, which was the first to be played at Wembley Stadium, as the Blues saw off Notts County. It was a scrappy goal, far from vintage Ji, but it mattered not a jot to the majority of the 30,000 fans in attendance at the home of football.
If that goal didn’t encapsulate the true brilliance of a player who has previously been likened to Lionel Messi, her effort in the penultimate WSL fixture of the campaign certainly did. With the Blues needing a win over Liverpool to move a step closer to the 2015 title, Ji calmed everyone’s nerves with a goal of breathtaking brilliance, pulling down an overhit cross with the deftest of touches before steadying herself and drilling a shot into the top corner.
Of course, it was Ji again who got the ball rolling in the final-day win over Sunderland which confirmed our first-ever WSL championship - a player for the big occasion and top scorer for a second consecutive season, this time with 10 goals from 26 appearances.
Ji continued her love affair with the Women’s FA Cup by scoring in each of our first three matches in the competition in 2016, including a hat-trick against Aston Villa in the sixth round. However, it was her strikes in the games either side of that treble which caught the eye. The first was an effort of technical brilliance to put the finishing touch on a fine team move up at Doncaster, then she kept our hopes of winning the competition alive by sending the semi-final against Man City into extra-time with a wonderful late free-kick. However, the South Korean couldn’t muster up another equaliser in the final against Arsenal, although she went agonisingly close with a half-volley which was perhaps our best opportunity of the second half.
Once again, her end-of-season goal tally for 2016 hit double figures, an impressive figure for a player who typically played as a No.10 but also spent periods in a deeper midfield role.
Ji was among our leading scorers once again during the shortened 2017 Spring Series, firing in six goals from eight starts, including quick-fire braces in our opening Women’s FA Cup and league fixtures and another strike at Reading which came less than a minute after she had been brought on as a substitute.
By her own admission, Ji didn’t begin the 2017/18 campaign playing her best football, but that all changed midway through the season. Having worked extensively with strength and conditioning coach Joe Warwick, she looked a different player; the ability to dictate the tempo, playing in a deeper midfield role, was still there but now she was more involved in the nitty gritty side of the game.
The goals continued to flow at a reasonable rate, with 12 coming from 28 appearances. She scored in three consecutive rounds of the Champions League, including our only goal in the semi-final tie against Wolfsburg, and it was Ji’s sensational brace on the final day against Liverpool - one volleyed in with her right foot, the other curled home with her left - which confirmed our unbeaten status in the 2017/18 WSL season.
A nomination for PFA Women’s Player of the Year, a spot in the Team of the Year and the Champions League squad of the season was evidence of another excellent campaign, as was another pair of major honours added to her collection. She also brought up 100 appearances for both Chelsea and her country at the tail-end of a season which concluded with a new contract until 2020.