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- Millie Bright was named in FIFA FIFPro World11 2020
- Chelsea and England stalwart talk about her place among the elite
- Bright also reflects on world championships and Olympic dreams
Straight and confident, Millie Bright speaks the same way she plays. This unpleasant honesty has also marked her steady, sustained progress to become one of the world’s leading players.
Bright’s status among the elite was further cemented last month when England and the Chelsea defender were named in FIFA’s FIFPro Women’s World11. This honor, bestowed on a vote among players around the world, reflects the esteem in which she is held by both colleagues and rivals.
However, the 27-year-old could not be described as being destined for such heights. She was not an avid supporter of football as a child, first playing the game at the age of nine and still holding down two days of work in her early 20s when she took her first try in the senior match with Doncaster Belles.
Leaving home to join Chelsea in 2015 was the most important landmark in her subsequent journey to the top, where Emma Hayes has seen something special in a defender she has long said “can be the very best”. It says everything for Bright’s development, and the Blues coach’s influence on her, that living up to this prediction has become a clear, rude goal.
In this interview, the middle half of the Lionesses talks about these ambitions and her sources of inspiration, as they reflect on a bittersweet FIFA Women’s World Cup ™ and look forward to this year’s Olympics.
FIFA.com: First, Millie, congratulations on your appointment to FIFA FIFPro World11. How did it feel?
Millie Bright: It was a bit of a shock to be in the final 11, but I was super proud and being nominated is something I am definitely working towards. These days, no matter what tournament or match I play in, I really try to make sure I’m a standout. It’s something I have become more aware of as I have developed as a player. I’ve been making the FIFPro list for the last couple of years now, and it’s special to me because you know these voices come from your teammates. The kind of recognition from people you have come across is as good as it gets.
Your status in the game has increased steadily in recent years. Is it something you have been aware of and eager to maintain?
One hundred percent. I compare myself to the best, and over the last couple of years I have looked at someone like Wendie Renard and asked myself what she does to ensure that she is always so successful – and always in the top 11. For me is it because she is always so consistent in everything she does and not just happy to stay on top – she is always looking to improve and make herself even better. She is a huge leader and so often in big games she makes the difference, whether it is with a big goal from a set piece or just by driving her team on to continuously win. This is something I have been trying to add to my game; just trying to stand out and be one of the players who really pushes the team forward, with both Chelsea and England. I have tried to improve defensively and also add something to my game in the way I play forward, both in terms of possession and to bring more goals. And I feel like I’m getting better at that. Above all, I want to win trophies, and Wendie Renard always wins. Therefore, she has been a great example for me to look at.
For all of Renard’s attributes and accomplishments, she missed out on The Best FIFA Women’s Player for another player you know very well. What can you tell us about Lucy Bronze?
Lucy received this award because she is someone who is grafted every single day of her career. As she herself said in her speech, she also has a real competitive advantage and willingness to win in everything she does. I believe that determination to stand out and become the best has been an important element in her rising to the level she has reached. If there is anyone who gives an example of how to continually improve and achieve your goals, it is Lucy Bronze. She has certainly been an inspiration to me and I was very happy for her because she really deserves it.
With two defenders in the last three, and one of them taking home the trophy, does it trigger any dreams in you of winning that award one day?
It’s in the back of my mind, but it’s about the process for me. I just want to keep improving every day and become the best player I can be. If I eventually mark all the fields, there’s no reason I can ‘t be up there and challenge for it. Lucy winner this year shows that it is possible for defenders. But I do not get caught focusing on it.
Finally at The Best, Emma Hayes just missed out on the coaching award. But how important has she been to you, and what can you say about her?
Em is probably the reason I have pushed so much over the last few years. She is a huge trainer and an amazing person. She knows how to get the best out of the players. When you look at the journey we’ve been on at Chelsea the last few years and the successes we’ve had, Em has driven all of this. She herself is a born winner and she is not afraid to make changes if they will break down barriers in our way. The determination she needs to be the best has really infected me and pushed me to believe in myself and never give in. She’s the best manager I’ve played under and I’m really excited to see where she can take this team.
Given your respect for Emma and the ambition Chelsea have shown, was the decision to extend your contract recently an easy one?
Definitely. There was no doubt in my mind. I have achieved so much since I was here, but I know there is still so much to come, both from me personally and from this club. I also know that there will always be an attempt to get better under Emma, no matter what we achieve. It’s about being humble here. The same expectations and requirements are set for everyone, and everything is aimed at becoming the best.
Are you surprised at yourself at the levels you reach in the game now, assuming you did not play football – and were not even a big football fan – as a small child?
It’s crazy to think about the journey I’ve been on. I did not really play football until I was nine, and it is not so long ago that I played part time and not near the level I am at now. I always like to think about where I came from and what it takes to get here, and I feel that the experiences I had when I was younger have helped shape me into the player I am. now. Things have also changed a lot for the better. It was really not clear to me when I started that I could make a career with football, while girls can now see that anything is possible if you have the talent and work hard enough. Each generation of female players has a responsibility to continue to cultivate the game and make things easier for the next generation, and I think we are doing a good job of that right now.
One of the things that helps create growth is social media clips that show the quality of women’s soccer, and your wonderful goal in Community Shield has been one of those viral moments. Can you tell us about it?
I do not think it will be much better than scoring such a goal at a stadium like Wembley. The only thing that would have topped it is if there were fans there to see it. But it still felt electric. The girls often tell me to walk away from the distance; JiJi (Ji Soyun) always says, ‘When I pass on to you, take a hit and shoot!’ It’s just a case of being confident enough to do so. I want to show that the shot was not a one-time item and it would be good if it was something I became known for. That said, I think I’m doing well in scoring a better goal than that!
When we think of the 2019 World Cup for women, how do you reflect on that now? Bittersweet, given the way it ended (with a red card against the USA in England’s defeat in the semifinals) and the fact that you had played so well until then?
I would say that bittersweet is right. At first, the biggest feeling was definitely disappointment and felt angry at myself. But after a long, hard reflection, I could also feel proud of the journey I had been through that tournament. It (the red card) happened, I do not apologize, but it is football, these things happen and many other players have been in the same situation. If I could go back, of course, I would change things – just in terms of containing my emotions and my decision making, because I did not have to go into that tackling. But I was proud of the team, proud to be a part of my first world championship and all the successes that came with it. Again, I have appreciated it more over time. At first I was really sad and did not feel that we had succeeded or really increased. But when I look at the bigger picture and with some time to reflect, I can see that we did.
The Olympics are, of course, the next major international event on the horizon. How excited are you about the prospect of joining a UK team in Tokyo?
That would be massive. When they talk to the girls involved in 2012, they always say what a unique, incredible experience it was, with all the different sports and athletes coming together. That’s probably the thing I’m most excited about, and I’m working very hard at the moment to make sure I put myself in the best possible position to get elected. I have always enjoyed watching the Olympics as a fan. Whatever sport you watch, there is a sense of, ‘Oh my God, this is the Olympics’. There’s a special vibe and excitement to it, I think – to see all these amazing athletes who have been training for years to reach that point. I would very much like to be a part of it.