Emma Hayes has described the Chelsea captain, Magda Eriksson, as “a main reason we’ve been a winning team for years” and praised her influence on her return from three months out to help navigate Chelsea to a third consecutive league title and Sunday’s FA Cup final against Manchester City.
Eriksson suffered an ankle injury during Chelsea’s 4-0 Champions League defeat to Wolfsburg in December, ruling her out of action for a significant part of the season. “We knew it was an injury that was going to take a bit of time,” says Hayes. “Naturally, the team was going to lose something. In Aniek [Nouwen] we have a player that doesn’t have the experience but stepped into a space that helped develop the team in some different ways. However, Magda’s our captain for a reason.”
When Eriksson was fit again in March Hayes was reluctant to put her straight back into a team on a winning streak, despite her quality. “I really rate and respect Magda but we had conversations around being patient and I knew that moment would come. Neither of us thought that would be when we went down to 10 players at Tottenham.
“Having Magda’s leadership back on the pitch, and I don’t want to take anything away from Millie [Bright] because Millie’s been amazing, but having both of them together brings another dimension to us managing really tough moments. Particularly when the stress levels go up.”
Being out was “a challenge”, says Eriksson. “It was my first long injury in a very long time. It wasn’t nice to be out for three months and not be part of the team.
“But watching the team play and watching players grow in that period, every single player stepped up so that made me really proud. I was sad not to be part of it but it made me really proud to see how many younger girls in our team stepped up and really took that responsibility.”
Coming back into the Chelsea side was a test. “You want to be back where you left off but you have to respect that your body has gone through an injury and you have been out for three months. I have really high demands, so I had to try and be nice to myself.”
Being captain from the sidelines was a different role for the Sweden centre-back. “It’s important to know when to take a step back and when to let the team figure it out themselves with their new roles,” she says.
“Millie had the armband and she did amazingly and the team performed really well. So I tried to mainly focus on my injury, getting myself right first, because that is important, you have to focus on yourself sometimes. But then I was always there if anyone needed a chat or anyone wanted to talk to someone who wasn’t maybe involved in playing that much.”
Eriksson’s absence was keenly felt for Chelsea in their 3-1 Continental League Cup final defeat to their FA Cup final opponents, Manchester City. “They’re back now, they’re back to their old self,” says Eriksson, who is in touch with the Chelsea men’s team captain, César Azpilicueta, and said the two Chelsea teams would be cheering each other on.
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“Their record lately has proven they look incredibly strong. They were strong against us as well in the Conti Cup final, we want to get revenge for that game. We know we can do better than that.”
The FA Cup final in 2018 was Eriksson’s “first real big game for Chelsea” and the competition means a lot. “That’s the game I will always remember, it’s one of the coolest I’ve ever experienced. I don’t know how many were in the stands, but it was a lot of people and back then I wasn’t used to playing in front of that many people and we’re expecting an even bigger crowd on Sunday. The fans are amazing, and the history of the Cup is great. There’s so many things that make you want to win it.”