WE SPOKE TO KATIE ZELEM ABOUT CAPTAINING MAN UNITED, THE DERBY, AND BEING ON BILLBOARDS
A few weeks back, before all the football went away, we sent Sporting Club de Mundial captain Richael O'Brien to have a quick chat with the captain of Man United WFC, Katie Zelem, to talk about what it’s like to play for a club she has supported her whole life, speaking as part of the recent adidas Originals Superstar campaign in which she stars.
MUNDIAL: Was the decision to move back to England from Italy difficult?
KATIE: It was always my plan to move back, I just wasn't sure when it would be. I originally signed a two-year contract at Juventus but when Manchester United - bearing in mind my childhood club came knocking... There’s not many reasons you can say no. Saying that, I loved every minute of being in Italy and I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to play overseas.
What’s the biggest difference between playing in Italy and in England?
The Italian league is more tactical and technical based compared to England. The training sessions are very focussed on technical aspects of the game. In comparison to England, I think the FAWSL is quite physical: there's a big emphasis on strength, fitness, the gym. Obviously it’s the first fully professional league in Europe so that gives the advantage to competitiveness, with all teams training full time and being able to solely focus on football.
It’s not that common for English players to play abroad. Do you think the experience in Italy has given you an edge over other players?
I think the experience I gained from playing abroad certainly broadened my perspective. It’s enlightening to see first hand what players experience when they come over to England and I gained a greater understanding about how they feel and different emotions they go through. I think playing abroad not only helped me as a player but also as a person. I matured a lot and felt I returned back to England a more well-rounded person.
You’re one of the youngest captains in the WSL, what does that mean to you?
It’s one of my biggest achievements to date. I'm incredibly honoured to captain such a huge club like Manchester United and it means even more to me with all the childhood memories I hold there. When I first signed at the club at age 8, I never even knew it was possible to play football professionally, never mind lead out my childhood club in front of 35,000 people at the first ever women's Manchester Derby.
We know we're a good side, but we also know we have areas to work on. We're a young side and don't have bags of experience but we are all hungry for success and want to prove ourselves at the top level and I believe we are currently doing that. Our aim was to finish as high up the table as possible and I think to be currently sitting at 4th is a huge achievement for us but we want to carry this form through till the end of the season.
What is it at Man United that’s helped you to make such progress?
I think we've all got a huge belief in ourselves, each other, and the staff around us. We trust in the information we're given and are constantly striving to be better. We have a great support system around us as players: whether that's the immediate staff around us or the board higher up, we know they believe in us and want to see Manchester United achieve great things.
We’ve seen some big attendances at the marque games in WSL this season, and attendances are growing in general, do you think that's down to the influence of the World Cup alone?
I think the World Cup certainly helped grow the attendances within the FAWSL. The success the girls had at the tournament had a knock-on effect to the growing interest in women's football. I also think clubs have individually stepped up their game with the increased marketing and arranging for matches to be played at the men's stadiums. This has really helped generate interest from new fans and fans from the men's side.
How have things changed since your early years in the sport?
Compared to when I played for Liverpool the difference in interest is light years apart. The introduction of new teams such as Manchester United, West Ham, and Tottenham to the top division means supporters are able to take more interest in their favoured teams. Fans are much more interested and many women's teams now have much larger and dedicated followings than previously.
Who is the best player you’ve played with in your career so far?
Fara Williams is an exceptional player and I learnt so much from her whilst I was at Liverpool. Even when I play against her and see her play now, I'm constantly trying to pick up on little things she does. She's one of those players who has the ability to do something from nothing and she's so technically gifted with both her left and right foot.
Who’s been your toughest opponent?
I remember playing against Arsenal a couple of years back and they were unplayable. We couldn't get near them and they moved the ball so effortlessly. Vicky Losada was there stand out player that game but we also played them in a semi-final last year and Kim Little was unbelievable.
What’s it like working with Casey Stoney?
It’s great working with Casey. We have a good, open and honest connection which really allows us to bond. Her attention to detail is second to none and she's always trying to improve herself and the team. She is one of the hardest working people I know and if anything needs to cut herself some slack and work less! Even with Manchester United being her first managerial club, it’s clear to see how talented she is in the role. She has been able to bring a group of strangers — both staff and players together in such a short space of time and already achieved and currently achieving success, this in itself highlights both her people and coaching skills.
What has it been like working with adidas Originals’ on the Superstar campaign?
It has been amazing. The amount of messages and photos I get sent to me, of me in the tube station or up on a billboard somewhere in London has been crazy. For adidas to use me in the campaign was unbelievable, especially when you see some of the other names and faces in the campaign. I'm so grateful to have been a part of the Superstar relaunch and I've thoroughly enjoyed every part of the experience.