Sport Chelsea's Niamh Charles looking to emulate Liverpool's European glory

04:45  15 may  2021
04:45  15 may  2021 Source:   dailymail.co.uk

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Niamh Louise Charles (born 21 June 1999) is an English football winger who plays for Chelsea in the FA WSL and the England National Team. After impressing in the academy, Charles made her Liverpool debut in April 2016, in a draw against Sunderland.

In both legs of Chelsea ’ s European tie with Atletico, that is where she was deployed. It’ s where Hayes has said she sees her future. Not that the forward has lost her attacking nous, at all. Her goal against Man City in the Conti Cup was the most notable example. She’ s only been at Chelsea for a few months, but Charles is sounding and looking like a player with all the traits that the club want. “When she realises how good she is,” Hayes said of her summer signing, “then I think she'll take another step.”

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Two years ago, Niamh Charles was making her own way to a Champions League final, happy to have a precious ticket in her hands and booking flights to see her beloved Liverpool play Tottenham in Madrid’s Metropolitano Stadium.

‘Getting a ticket was the main thing and I just went as a fan, everyone did their own thing,’ she relates. ‘It was because I’d had 2005 that I knew what the Champions League was. I just wanted to be there.’

Her story of watching Steven Gerrard and the miracle of Istanbul is something else entirely. Charles was a five-year-old, allowed to stay up to watch the game with her family, gathered around the TV set in their home on the Wirral peninsula, as Rafael Benitez’s side turned the game round.

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Chelsea star Niamh Charles is pinching herself as she bids to emulate her idols in Champions Sadio Mane SNUBS Jurgen Klopp handshake following Liverpool ' s win at Man United to keep top HOT OR NOT: Chelsea managers have rarely looked less sackable than Emma Hayes after her

Chelsea Women have continued to show their ambition with the shrewd acquisition of Niamh Charles - and it could prove to be the perfect move for both the club and player. The Blues have made a selection of headline signings over the course of the last 12 months, landing Norwegian forward Guro Reiten in the summer of 2019, Australian superstar Sam Kerr in January and Bayern Munich captain Charles joined from recently relegated Liverpool , where she had shone despite the Reds struggles on the pitch. She is everything you want from a winger; tricky, fearless and captivating with the ball at her feet.

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‘I remember exactly where I was and it gives me goosebumps even now,’ she recalls. ‘It was such an end to such a crazy game and I was still up — still there — when they won it.’

This weekend she will be on the same stage herself, in Emma Hayes’s Chelsea side facing Barcelona at Gothenburg’s Gamla Ullevi Stadium.

‘I can hardly believe that it’s happening,’ she says. ‘If you’d told me when I was at that final in Madrid — let alone back in 2005 — that I’d be part of a squad playing in one, a few years later… well, I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s incredible to be preparing for this and to be with a group of unbelievably experienced players, watching how they approach a match like this.’

It has been some turnaround for her too, given that a year ago she was in the Liverpool team relegated from the WSL. Just two days after her 20th birthday, she then found herself heading to a Chelsea squad so packed with talent that some in the game were asking how on earth a wide forward like her would possibly break through there.

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Charles made the switch from Liverpool to Chelsea in June and has made 10 appearances for the Blues in which she has impressed manager Emma Hayes. ‘It’ s something I’ve never done before and it’ s such a massive achievement and it was a dream of mine to do. For young girls now to look up and say I can play in the Champions League when I’m older, I think it’ s brilliant.’ Charles , along with her team-mates, is taking a break for Christmas and she highlights the importance of some much-needed rest to ensure the Blues come back ready to carry our fine form into the second half of the season.

Chelsea FC Women have added to our squad ahead of the 2020/21 season with the signing of attacking player Niamh Charles from Liverpool Women. Charles , who celebrated her 21st birthday on Sunday, has agreed a deal with the Blues until the summer of 2023. The England youth international came through Liverpool ’ s centre of excellence and development squad, before becoming a first-team regular. She made her Women’ s Super League debut at just 16 and has since gone on to make 59 appearances, scoring 11 goals for Liverpool , with two coming against Chelsea .

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As a wing-back, was the answer. Operating from both the right and left sides of defence, Charles has brought pace and strength to Chelsea in the defining past few months and was one of the outstanding players in the semi-final second leg win over Bayern Munich, which sent the team to Sweden.

‘When I came here, I just trusted Emma,’ she says of her manager, after one of the club’s last training days before flying to Sweden. ‘It was just me getting used to working hard and training with these unbelievable players and the wing- back role just happened naturally.

‘When you become a defender, the most important part suddenly becomes keeping a clean sheet so that has been different for me. But in our team, everyone defends, everyone attacks.’

The ice in her veins has also helped. An injury to Maren Mjelde, allied to Jonna Andersson’s struggle to cope with Hanna Glas in the Bayern first leg, created openings at full back which Charles and Jess Carter, another young English talent on the right of defence, have seized.

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Liverpool FC Women’ s Niamh Charles believes the first weekend of Women’ s Super League action showed just what a competitive season lies ahead. While the Reds narrowly lost out by a single goal to Reading, there were close matches across the division in front of record WSL crowds. Charles and her Liverpool teammates travel to newly-promoted Tottenham Hotspur Women on Sunday fully aware that a very tough game lies ahead. The 20-year-old forward said: “We’re really looking forward to it. They’re a new team and did well last week against Chelsea [a 1-0 defeat]. “Across the WSL, the

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Even for those of Charles’ generation, the route into the game has been vastly more challenging than for her male contemporaries. Like Nikita Parris, a Merseysider six years her senior, she spent much of her childhood playing in a boys’ team — Wirral side West Kirby Wasps — sometimes facing opposition who viewed the presence of a girl in the side with suspicion, to put it mildly.

‘When I got to age 12 or 13, it might be an issue for some opposing teams. “Oh there’s a girl playing, we don’t want to play”,’ she relates. ‘There might be words from some of them, but my team-mates would always be there to stand up for me.

‘The boys also started growing quicker than me and I had to adapt my game to try to deal with it. I was a defender at that time, having to make challenges, so I had to learn to look after myself. But my team knew I could play. They had my back.’

She still visits the Wasps, who became a huge part of her life.

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Signing for Liverpool as a 14-year-old brought all-girls’ football and a chance to express herself more as a player. But at 18 she also began studying for a BSc in Sport and Exercise Science at Liverpool John Moores University — training with Vicky Jepson’s team at least four days a week and shoehorning academic work into the evenings, with flat-mates who were also juggling the early stages of a football career.

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‘Thursdays were my day off from football,’ she says. ‘I called them “uni days” when I could actually go in and finally be a student for the day.’

The academic workload, including a dissertation on psychological perspectives on long-term injury, reflects the need for a back-up in case a football career did not pay a proper wage. Young players like her have needed resilience.

‘She’s a good learner and that’s why she’s thriving,’ says the former Leeds United player Lucy Ward, part of tomorrow’s BT Sport commentary team, who has watched Charles’ progress closely over the years. ‘She’s got good pace, has physical assets and is strong. But she also doesn’t need to be told twice. When Emma Hayes says, “This is what you need to do”, she picks it up. She’s grabbed her chance with both hands.’

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Charles’ development through the England youth ranks has helped. The FA provide their young players with the kind of strength and conditioning work not all clubs offer. It was in an England shirt that she finally scored a goal with her mother, Liz, in attendance. ‘I’d only ever seemed to score in front of my dad.’

The technical adjustment to becoming a wing-back has been picked up from team-mates. ‘I think technically you pick things up more from the players you’re with, watching what they do,’ she says. ‘Tactically is where the coaches come in, suggesting you shift very slightly to different areas of the pitch.’

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The fact she has not been thrown straight into the first team perhaps helped, providing a chance to acclimatize and steer clear of the injuries which were a frustration at Liverpool.

Charles does not give much away about what a disappointment the way things turned out at Liverpool must have been. She joined the club as a 14-year-old, when they were the nation’s outstanding side: WSL champions in 2013 and 2014.

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She played against Everton at Anfield, the stadium where she and her father, Nick, once posed for photographs beneath the legendary This is Anfield sign. As a girl, she pinned Steven Gerrard posters to her wall. As a Liverpool player, she met him.

‘That was a childhood dream for me, to be able play for them,’ Charles says. ‘But in terms of my career, this seemed like the next step to challenge myself.’

In Madrid two summers ago, the pairing of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson told her all she needed to know about how to excel from full back, though Charles does not seem to feel the need to view Liverpool’s male players as role models.

‘They are unbelievable players, attacking as well as defensively,’ Charles says of the pair. ‘But of course there are so many other players, too. I take little bits from everyone. At the end of the day, I’m me. I’m not trying to be them.’

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