Emma Wilhelmsson interview: The Brit Bamboozle for Chelsea’s Swedish defender

Photo courtesy of Chelsea Ladies FC
Photo courtesy of Chelsea Ladies FC

Chelsea Ladies’ new recruit Emma Wilhelmsson heads into the upcoming FA Women’s Super League season with title-winning experience in Sweden to her name, but there is a linguistic challenge that could prove far trickier for the defender than any match she plays!

A player who has featured across the backline and also in a defensive midfield role, Emma was with LdB FC Malmö (known as Malmö FF Dam until 2007) from 2006 to 2012. In her time with the team, who became FC Rosengård this year, the 27-year-old won the Damallsvenskan (the highest division in Sweden) on two occasions – in 2010 and 2011.

By virtue of this success, she got the opportunity to play in the UEFA Women’s Champions League and she arrives at Chelsea via Jitex BK. Having spent her whole club career to date in her homeland, this is a completely new start in a number of ways for Emma.

Manager Emma Hayes has brought in eight new players for the 2014 WSL campaign, half of whom come from overseas. Moving to a team in a new country can present a long list of conditions to adapt to, from understanding the footballing ethos to speaking an unfamiliar language. Emma’s English is extremely good but even she is a little bit lost with some of the words her Blues teammates can throw into the conversation!

“Yes they use all different slang words I don’t really understand! It’s good to learn all the football terms though.”

Malmö were Damallsvenskan champions last year but Emma spent the season with Jitex BK who would finish 10th in the 12-team competition. Despite placing third from bottom, Jitex were six points clear of relegation and they remain a recognisable name in Swedish women’s football.

Chelsea had another representative of Sweden in the ranks last season in the shape of international forward Sofia Jakobsson, now with BV Cloppenburg of the Frauen-Bundesliga. She contributed six league goals and was a popular addition, combining well with England international Eniola Aluko, who was featured on here last May.

As well as her league titles, Emma has played for Sweden at Under-21 and Under-23 level and she has been able to connect well with the Chelsea players and her surroundings since she arrived.

“It takes time of course when you move away from home to a new country. Some things are different here, some are the same.

“I’m living in Cobham and I moved from Gothenburg which is a big city where you have everything you need. In Cobham, most things close very early but the setting is pretty good.

“I’m happy to be a part of the Chelsea team and I’m enjoying going to training. I like being abroad and that’s a challenge for me.”

Also a former player with Östers IF, Emma started out with her local club Växjö FF and she gave me a glimpse into the kind of scenery she grew up amongst.

“My hometown is Växjö. It’s not a very big town, like 60,000 inhabitants, and it’s in the south of Sweden.

“It’s nice, although I haven’t lived there for almost ten years.”

Last December, Chelsea ventured to Japan to take part in the International Women’s Club Championship. The competition provided a unique alternative to the opponents the team are so often used to facing and they began with a semi-final against Sydney FC of the W-League in Australia.

You can find many of my interviews on here with W-League players past and present and two of these were in the Sydney squad as the Sky Blues met the Blues – Australian internationals Samantha Kerr and Caitlin Foord. Despite a late onslaught, Chelsea were 3-2 victors with goals from Laura Coombs, Eniola Aluko and Yuki Ogimi, the World Cup winner playing back in her homeland.

Although she did not become a permanent signing until the end of January, Emma started that game and subsequently the final. The Blues were beaten 4-2 by Japanese side INAC Kobe Leonessa with Rachel Williams and Emma’s defensive colleague Hannah Blundell netting. 23-year-old South Korean playmaker Ji So-Yun scored for INAC and signed for Chelsea just weeks later.

The trip to the Far East was a magnificent experience for those involved and Emma introduced herself to her counterparts off the field too.

“In Japan with Chelsea, I had to do karaoke and of course I did ABBA. The song was ‘Mamma Mia’.”


Photo: Chelsea Ladies FC


Emma is not the only Swede to mention ABBA on here and she is in good company as the other interviewee to do so was former Sheffield Wednesday and Everton midfielder Niclas Alexandersson, a veteran of two World Cups and 109 international caps. Offering some further insight into her personality, Emma shares the music she enjoys.

“I listen to a lot of the songs on the radio, some rock, a mix of genres though. I like Queen, Beyonce, Alicia Keys.

“The first CD I bought was ‘Absolute Dance 7’ in Sweden which had various artists on it. One of the first tapes I remember was a mixtape my dad made which had ABBA on one side and the Beatles on the other.”

Prior to their switch to FC Rosengård, LdB FC Malmö were often fuelled in recent years by the striking prowess of Dutch star Manon Melis, Anja Mittag, the Euro 2013 final hero for Germany, and 23-year-old Swiss talent Ramona Bachmann. Emma recalled one of the routines from the Malmö days when asked if she has ever been made to sing in front of her teammates.

“Yes, whenever we have had a competition, especially at Malmö. Before a warm-up we would do some dancing, which is terrible for me as I have no rhythm so everyone was laughing!”

One of the Swedish women’s national team’s all-time greats became her country’s most-capped player when making her 187th appearance last year. She is a friend of Emma’s and would tend to rule the roost at club level when it came to choosing the team’s music in the changing room.

“I would say Therese Sjögran when I played at Malmö. She really loved music, I wouldn’t say she was a DJ but it was her playlist we had on before the game.

“It was like r&b and the biggest hits of the moment.”

As enjoyable as it is listening to the kind of tracks that instantly push your buttons in the right way, it can be more than a little bit interesting to take in music that ticks the box for ‘unusual’! Of all those she has worked with, Emma named a player who won 80 caps for her country as the one whose playlist was outlawed by her teammates.

“Caroline Jönsson, the former goalkeeper for the Swedish national team. It was Swedish music and she wasn’t allowed to play it when she tried!”

Emma may not be a guitar-playing songstress like Sweden head coach Pia Sundhage but if she was to record a cover version of a song with one of her career teammates then there may be some hairspray needed at the very least! To join her on this, she went for a fellow defender and one who is representing Rosengård in the 2014 Damallsvenskan.

“I think the song would be Bon Jovi ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ and I would do it together with Lina Nilsson, my teammate at Malmö.”

Ahead of their WSL opener away to 2013 runners-up Bristol Academy next Thursday (April 17th), Chelsea face the same opposition at home in the FA Women’s Cup on Sunday (April 13th). Emma Hayes’ eighth signing in preparation for the season is Chilean international goalkeeper Christiane Endler. This follows the deals for the aforementioned Ji So-Yun, 19-year-old Dutch-born Belgian-raised attacking midfielder Jackie Groenen, English quartet Laura Bassett, Rachel Williams, Gilly Flaherty and Katie Chapman, and of course, Emma.

Chelsea came 7th last year with three wins from 14 games and they are targeting considerably better form over this campaign. The first home match will be against defending champions and ex-Blues boss Matt Beard’s Liverpool Ladies at Wheatsheaf Park on Sunday April 20th.

There is a lot to be excited about for Emma but what does she like to do the most when she isn’t keeping her eye on opposing forwards?

“I love going out with friends and I love to travel and to do and see stuff. I’m very active and I also like to ski.

“My biggest ambition is just to live life and have fun. On the football pitch I don’t know where it’s going to go but I just want to perform as well as I can.”

Over the course of the coming season, Emma will be able to make her own assessment on how the WSL measures up to the Damallsvenskan. So far in her career, she has taken on some great players and also played alongside some gifted ones too. For the final question, Emma selects four of the best she has ever worked with to go into a fantasy 5-a-side team beside her.

This can be a tricky one for the players to put together but Emma managed to narrow it down. She started with an Icelandic keeper who was chosen by Ireland defender Ciara McCormack and former New Zealand captain Rebecca Smith when they answered this question.

“This is really hard! My goalkeeper would be Thora Helgadottir – I think she is the best I have played with.

“She’s solid, good in the air, commanding and she has good feet.

“My defender – Malin Levenstad. We played together as centre-halves for four years and we had very good co-operation and learned from each other.

“She is very fast and very tough and I don’t want to be her opponent one-versus-one.

“In midfield – Therese Sjögran. She has amazing technique and can see what’s going to happen before it actually does – she is a very smart player.

“As a striker – Ramona Bachmann from Switzerland. Her technique is also amazing and she is one of the best players I have seen one-on-one – a good finisher.”

Follow me on Twitter: @chris_brookes

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