Jonna Andersson interview: Blue was the colour – But the song remains for Sweden defender

Another big summer is underway for Jonna Andersson and her Sweden team. While the defender’s name on a tournament squad list might come these days without Chelsea alongside it, the Hammarby player remains forever glad for those life-enhancing years in blue.

“I don’t know what song it is, but it’s like…’da, da, da, da, da…Jonna Andersson!’ We had it in the changing room in Hammarby recently, and Adelina Engman, she played in Chelsea with me, she was like, ‘Oh, this is your song, Jonna!’”

A year since her return home to Sweden, Jonna Andersson hasn’t yet escaped Chelsea fans’ chosen tune for her (to ‘This Girl’ by Kungs vs. Cookin’ on 3 Burners). The popular former Blues left-back also still wears 25 – her club career’s first number and a near-constant ever since – though life has a generally-modified backdrop since leaving England.

“We had a day off with teammates, we were just taking a boat out to an island, and it felt like a holiday,” she recalls. “I think Stockholm is really nice in that way; you have the city life but you can take the boat somewhere, you can go to the woods, you can go to swim.”

“It’s nice to explore these different environments, to switch off from football.”

The winning habit hasn’t left her yet, with domestic-cup success to celebrate after Hammarby downed BK Häcken 3-0 in the capital last month. The 80-cap international has, though, probably forgotten what a summer without a major tournament feels like.

After the rearranged Tokyo Olympics in 2021, and UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 in England, her second FIFA Women’s World Cup now comes via the longest trip yet. The Sweden team arrived in Wellington this week after a 38-hour journey to New Zealand – with no luggage there to meet them.

Jonna’s one-day wait for hers to arrive was still less than that of some teammates. Even with the occasional stressful experience, however, they are a team who have long enjoyed one another’s company, with the likes of captain Caroline Seger (at her fourteenth tournament) still at the heart of it.

“She’s always a leader but a very nice person, and you can be serious with her but you can also just laugh and have fun; she’s really important for the group. If it’s music or entertainment, I would say Olivia Schough; she’s always so much energy, happy, and you get so much energy from these kinds of players.

“We have a really nice group, with a lot of good players, and you always have a nice feeling going down to breakfast, lunch or training.”

A pair of Olympic silver medals have been the most tangible highlights so far – in Jonna’s first tournament, as a 23-year-old at Rio 2016, and after they had impressed so emphatically in their run to the final in Japan two years ago. Led since 2017 by Peter Gerhardsson, the World Cup bronze medal they took home from France last time around was embraced with the full feeling of having won something.

The former forward has aimed to guide them on to a more progressive footballing plain during his tenure. A Svenska Cupen-winning BK Häcken (men’s) coach, his reputation speaks for itself, but the calibre of his character has perhaps left even more of an impression during the past six years.

“As you said, he’s a really nice person, and he really cares about everyone, as a team but about the individual person, and that’s how you create a team and a nice environment,” Jonna explains. “Most of the times when we talk, it’s repetition, but when it’s ten days of training for a tournament or something, you have to do it.”

“He’s very clear with what he wants, and when we come to camp, we need to go back to those tactical things as quick as possible.”

With solid football principles comes a character with a love for off-field interests, anchored by music. It has, on occasions, led to showing his players song videos, as part of coaching messages.

As he revealed on here back in 2020, however, that aim does not always hit the mark! Among his endearing idiosyncrasies, Jonna is asked if that has cropped up in any recent meetings.

“In the last camps, it’s been more motivation videos of us playing, with a nice song or something, but yeah, sometimes he’s been showing a band or a song and we are not sure why we’re seeing it! But he’s funny.”

It is a team that also carries more melodic quality than most. Elin Rubensson, for example, plays piano, Sofia Jakobsson the guitar, and Filippa Angeldahl the…foam roller.

While not among their instrumentally-gifted, music is an area that Jonna has a touch of her own history with. The 2012 UEFA Under-19 Championship in Turkey is most remembered for Sweden’s victory, clinched with an extra-time, Malin Díaz goal against a Spain side captained by today’s Best FIFA Women’s Player, Alexia Putellas.

Alongside Jonna, it was a Swedish squad containing the aforementioned Rubensson (top scorer), Amanda Ilestedt (captain), Magdalena Eriksson, Lina Hurtig and Fridolina Rolfö – all part of this summer’s World Cup team (which would have also included Hanna Glas, but for injury). Before that tournament came a studio session for the players, suitably gathered around in headphones and teamwear.

“When you say it, I can just see the picture! It’s probably the only thing I remember, that we went to a studio and we recorded a song that we were writing together as a team.

“It was from a Swedish song that we just changed the title and the text to.”

The senior team also routinely comes equipped with a tournament track (taken on this time by singer-songwriter Miss Li). Back in the home-hosted EURO 2013, attacker Olivia Schough’s sisters, Lydia, Matilda and Lovisa, put together ‘Dansa Fotboll’, with Olivia and Lydia having linked up on one for the 2012 Olympics.

Now in New Zealand for her eighth major competition, FC Rosengård’s Olivia would be an essential selection if Jonna was ever to try launching a follow-up to her 2012 collaborative effort.

“If I’m able to bring someone who can sing, like Olivia, I’d love to have her in that group, because I’m not the best singer! I think it’s a fun thing, but you also need someone with a nice voice!

“We have a really good group of players that can be creative and come up with ideas, so it’s hard to pick a few.”

As Magdalena Eriksson recalled on this site in 2020, a four-pronged Chelsea initiation saw herself, Jonna, Finland’s Adelina Engman and ex-England international Anita Asante giving ABBA a multi-national revamp. Mjölby-born Jonna had arrived in England halfway through Chelsea’s double-winning 2017/18 season.

The trio of Damallsvenskan titles and Swedish Cups she had been around for at Linköping proved useful practice for someone who would lift nine more trophies as a Blue (as well as the Community Shield). Boosting her honours list, though, is maybe not the aspect of her four-and-a-half-year stay she is most thankful for.

“I think when I moved, I was scared of talking English! I was quite shy and quiet, I didn’t really want to say something wrong, so both on and off the pitch, I didn’t really talk that much.

“I’m really glad that I had a few Scandinavian players, Swedish players that I could talk to and feel safe with outside the field. On the pitch as well, I think I did improve a lot of things, with Emma (Hayes) as a coach, being able to be braver; in Swedish, you say like ‘lose the handbrake,’ sometimes just go, and don’t think too much.

“When I was younger as well and I came to Linköping, I was quite shy, and maybe afraid to get someone close and have conversations. I would say now in Sweden and the national team, you can hear me in a changing room, so that’s good.”

Besides the likes of Beth England and Millie Bright moonlighting as resident DJs (Kevin and Perry style…) in the changing room, her silverware-laden Chelsea soundscape has another infectious entry.

“I don’t know if it was just when we won a title, but we always listened to ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads,’ so that’s one thing that always reminds me of that winning feeling in Chelsea.”

The everyday interactions with teammates and people at the club are what she misses. Asked what she isn’t so sad to leave behind, there is one thing…

“When we eat food in England, you just eat tomato sauce, or gravy or something basic, but in Sweden, when you have food, you have a nice sauce! Yeah, I think that’s something I don’t miss – like rice, chicken and tomato sauce!”

Fans and outside observers had become accustomed to the sight of her on Chelsea’s left flank (and even occasionally, the scoresheet!). When her departure was announced, manager Emma Hayes hailed her as ‘an unbelievable professional’ and ‘instrumental in our success.’

Signing off with her fourth Women’s Super League title and third FA Cup, Jonna describes the background to the decision to return home.

“My agent was talking to Chelsea, and asked if they wanted to sign a new contract, but at that point, they weren’t really sure. They said they were not going to offer me a new contract at that moment, so for me, it was time to start to look for something else.

“In the end, they were starting to talk about wanting to keep me, but by then, I was already thinking of other decisions, as it’s quite big to move. I took the decision to move back to Sweden, and didn’t really have the opportunity to stay, at least not in the beginning of the discussion.”

While she would come to look upon it from a wider scope, her initial reaction was one of admitted sadness.

“Of course the first feeling was, ‘Oh, what have I done wrong?’ but it’s football and how it works, you move on to different clubs. ‘Maybe the club wants to try something new, or play a different system that my qualities would not fit in.’

“It was a lot of questions when I heard it at the beginning, but I also know, and I had a good talk with Emma, and she had been telling me how important I’d been and that I’ve been improving every year. I had four-and-a-half amazing years, and it would be nice to stay, but I think in the end, it was a good decision to try something new.”

A Champions League runner-up in 2021, she is now chasing qualification for that very competition with a Hammarby team occupying 3rd place in the Damallsvenskan. The Chelsea favourite has also been playing alongside someone who may very well become that in the future – on-loan Blues forward Maika Hamano.

Now with the Japan squad for her first World Cup, the 19-year-old’s personality has impressed Jonna even more than her substantial on-field technique and intuition. Being able to play a part in guiding up-and-coming prospects is a role she has been especially enthused by.

Team DJ, though, remains one job she is happy to shirk.

“Yeah, I stay away! I would say most of the time, Matilda Vinberg, she’s the DJ, but it’s also what kind of mood we are in, and who’s first in the changing room.”

Recalling a Håkan Hellström concert with the national team, she is yet to attend a larger-scale gig. Given the chance to guarantee a ticket for any artist from all-time, she settles on two of today’s headline acts.

“It would be fun and amazing to be at a Beyoncé concert. I also like Ed Sheeran; that’s different kind of music, but I would love to listen to him as well, so maybe one day.

“It depends if I’m just at home, cleaning or doing something, but I’m more like covers or quite chill music. If it’s on a game day or training, I would like to just listen to pop or something that has more power in the music.”

The question of what she remembers listening to growing up flows neatly into a recent conversation between the Hammarby players.

“We were actually just talking about it a little bit, that we listened to Westlife when we were young. I think there was a concert coming in Stockholm at Gröna Lund, so then we were starting to listen on Spotify to Westlife, and you could just feel that was what you were listening to when you were young!”

Popstar-style, frenzied fandom is something she has not quite had to contend with herself, thankfully.

“Yeah, in England, I was just like a normal person! Here in Sweden, normally, it’s nothing.

“One or two times here in Stockholm, maybe just a girl or a family would say ‘hi’ or take a photo, but it’s quite chill as well. Of course, the smaller town where I’m from, if I’m home or closer to where I live, it’s probably more people that recognise me, but it’s not that I’m famous, or people running (towards me)!”

She continues, though, to play her part in a team undoubtedly sitting among the international elite. If wider hype regarding Sweden’s World Cup chances is more tepid than for EURO 2022, the 4-0 semi-final loss to England may have skewed perception somewhat.

It was a competition in which they had arguably done what was required without yet hitting the gears they had found so impressively in 2021, during an Olympic run that included brushing aside world champions USA, and Australia twice. While the England scoreline naturally brought headlines, the match itself was one in which Sweden had been swarming over their opponents at times, from Sofia Jakobsson breaking through on goal in the opening minute, to Stina Blackstenius heading a corner against the crossbar at 0-0.

A stark example of how dramatically the pendulum can swing when chances slip by, Jonna describes how they approached the task of moving on from what became a painful night.

“Yeah, of course it was very tough. When you see the result, it’s not a good game, but as you say, we could have been scoring early in the game, and it would probably be totally different.

“But the only thing you remember is the second half and the result. I think we really learned a lot of things from the tournament, but especially from that game, that you don’t get so many chances, and you have to be clinical to be able to go through.”

While nothing supersedes the standards that they demand of themselves, outside expectation on teams can be fascinating, and at times, arguably a touch illogical, in a competition where only one from 32 can win. From injuries to borderline officiating decisions at crucial moments, any number of factors can, and ordinarily do, help shape a team’s tournament.

Grouped with South Africa, Italy and Argentina, Jonna considers what the overall expectation on her team might be.

“Yeah, that’s a good question, I haven’t really been thinking about it. Normally, when it’s so close to a tournament, you would read about teams that ‘should’ win, but I think women’s football has been growing a lot the last two or three years.

“Of course, we have high expectations, and the supporters should have it as well; we’ve been close a lot of times now, and of course we want to be trying our best to go all the way. It’s so many teams that have been improving, and I think it’s going to be a great tournament to watch, but hard to be able to reach all the way.”

She would opt against going ‘the whole nine yards’ on this next, regular question! In keeping with the tradition of these interviews over the past decade or so, Jonna is given a fantasy 5-a-side scene, with four career teammates to play alongside her.

With the emphasis just on examples of those she has enjoyed sharing a field with, the aforementioned Chelsea loan star from her Hammarby side is the name she chooses to highlight.

“I would love to have Maika in my team; she’s really good technically but she’s also just fun. We can just pick on each other and laugh, so she’s probably really good to have.

“Then I think just a mix of close players that I have from the national team, and a combination of maybe players now in Hammarby and Chelsea; it’s hard to pick specific players.”

Describing herself as an analytical player, it is a mindset that she feels works both for and against her at times. She continues to strive for the balance between careful thought and recognising when to throw caution aside.

The second World Cup of an impressive career begins for real next weekend against South Africa in Wellington (23rd July). Maybe the Blågult’s number two can pop up again with their first goal of the tournament, just like against the Netherlands last summer (complete with her Chelsea song as the stadium goal music, coincidentally).

The great quest for glory goes on, in a team filled with long-standing friendship, and one she would truly love to finally reach the very summit of her sport with. Closeness and connection are also central in her wider priorities, for now and the future.

“I think now, especially moving back to Sweden, to have friends and family quite close, and they can visit me during the day and it’s not that far, I think that’s important, and something I really appreciate. As a player, of course it’s a process, and that’s why I chose to be a part of Hammarby, but we want to be top three and to play Champions League, and aim to win the league.

“That’s also a key factor when I was choosing moving back here, maybe picking a team that’s growing, instead of a team that’s already in the top two. So, being more like a leader and taking responsibility, on the pitch and off it as well.”

To catch each of these interviews, you can follow: @chris_brookes

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