Highly-rated Norway captain Maren Mjelde linked up with Chelsea in January 2017, quickly becoming an integral part of the side whether playing in midfield or as a sweeper.
She has been a regular for her country since her teens, filling several defensive roles for Norway including right-back for the first time in her career when skippering the side to a breakthrough victory over Germany in the UEFA Women’s Euro 2013 group stage. Yet she has picked up the majority of her international caps, which are more than 100 in total, as a defence-minded central midfielder. She scored a delightful free-kick from 20 yards to equalise against Germany at the 2015 World Cup.
Mjelde made her name with Arna-Bjornar in her homeland before reaching the Women’s Champions League semi-finals with Turbine Potsdam, who also finished runners-up in the German Cup and League competitions in her first season at the club. She enjoyed a spell in Sweden with Gothenborg before returning to Norway to compete for Avaldsnes IL.
Her level of expertise was immediately apparent when she took well to English football and the Chelsea side as if she had been here for years. After initially impressing in defence, including a dogged performance against Birmingham in the Women’s FA Cup semi-final while she was suffering with a migraine, Mjelde went on to star in midfield.
She barely put a foot wrong in or out of possession, typically making the right judgement of when to pass or to hold onto the ball, and winning it back with a mixture of tenacity and intelligent positional play. Those ingredients alone would have been enough to make her a fans’ favourite, but throw into the mix pinpoint delivery from set-pieces and we had an instant cult hero on our hands.
Mjelde was the only player to start all 11 matches during her maiden campaign, the 2017 Spring Series, and she captained the side against Yeovil on her league debut for the Blues. Her only goal was a well-placed shot in a win at Sunderland.
There was further success for Mjelde during the 2017/18 season when she added the WSL 1 title and Women's FA Cup to her trophy collection; incredibly, the latter triumph at Wembley Stadium was the first final she had won in her career after several near misses, and she did so with a typically virtuoso display at the heart of a back three.
That performance was in contrast to how Mjelde had started the campaign, when she played in her more familiar midfield role and opened up with a wonderful goal against Bristol City on the opening day, which was followed up in our next WSL1 game against Liverpool with the winner in a 1-0 victory.
Indeed, it was only an injury to Anita Asante in the spring which necessitated her move further back, but her performance levels never dropped. Her game intelligence came to the fore in a crucial end of season game against Birmingham when, with the scores level at 1-1 in stoppage time, she charged forward to intercept the ball on the left wing, which led to the winning goal from Erin Cuthbert.
In all she made 34 appearances, the second highest tally in the squad, and captained the side twice. Her tally of five goals was bettered by only six players and her form was recognised by her opponents in the WSL1, who nominated her for Women’s Player of the Year and in the Team of the Season. She ended the campaign by signing a new three-year contract with the club.