By Gerard Mulreaney (@gerardmulreaney)
Anyone who watched the 2017 Women’s FAI Cup Final between Cork City and UCD Waves at the Aviva Stadium would have seen a quality performance by Waves midfielder Chloe Mustaki.
The left-footer oozed class on the day, but unfortunately for Mustaki she would end up on the losing side.
Fast forward a couple of years and Irish International Mustaki is off to the UK, to try and make her mark with Championship side Charlton Athletic.
Mustaki, a former Republic of Ireland U19 captain, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2014 at the age of 19, but she battled back bravely and was called up by Vera Pauw for the recent Senior International against Ukraine.
“Since being called into the seniors, it has highlighted the need to play at a higher-level if being a consistent member of the Irish team is a long-term goal of mine,” said Mustaki.
For many observers, a move to play football in the UK is seen as a logical next step, however for Mustaki it was non-football related.
Mustaki said: “My decision to leave Shelbourne, and effectively Ireland, was because I needed to complete an internship abroad in order to graduate from my Masters degree. I chose London as it has great job opportunities and is close to home, but also because of the level of the women’s game in England at the moment.
“I contacted Charlton as soon as I arrived in London and asked them if I could train with the team while I finished out my season with Shelbourne. However, they were aware that pending the end of this season’s WNL, I would be looking to sign for an English Championship side that trained in the evenings in order to suit my work schedule.
— Charlton Athletic Women (@CAFCWomen) November 20, 2019
“It was essentially a trial period for me, but thankfully they were happy to sign me come November. My decision to go to Charlton was based off of their results last season and the calibre of players and level of training at the club.”
Moving abroad to play football is nothing new for the 24-year-old, as she previously played for French Ligue 1 side Bordeaux, but she still feels a little nervous: “There’s always a bit of anticipation when you move to an unfamiliar country. In the past, any move I have made for my studies has always had an end date, unlike this move to London. What’s different about this time around is that I have no idea how long I’ll be here for.
“It’s made the need to settle in a bit more real, which has been somewhat overwhelming at times, but I feel ready for the challenge both in a professional and sporting sense, wherever it is they each take me.”
She played in the 2019 Women’s National League (WNL) with Shelbourne, missing out on the title by just two points to a brilliant Peamount United side. She played the majority of the season in defence, however in my opinion she’s a much better midfielder, a player of real quality. She’s extremely technical, with good awareness.
So, I asked her where she prefers to play: “I definitely much prefer playing in midfield. Unfortunately as a lefty (and all you lefties out there can identify with this I’m sure!), you can sometimes be played left-back if you’re in anyway defensively minded since there’s fewer of us and therefore a need for someone left-footed to play in that position.
“At the end of the day, being in the starting eleven is the priority, but I experience a lot more enjoyment in centre-midfield where I’m able to express myself a bit more. Charlton have signed me with a view of playing me in both positions, but for now I have been playing left-back.
Had Shelbourne pipped Peamount to the title, they would have had UEFA Champions League football to look forward to in 2020, something Mustaki would have missed out on either way: “It definitely would have made not coming back next season harder, but I feel that I am at the age where I need to put myself out of my comfort zone and experience new environments and challenges. As a result, winning the league with Shelbourne wouldn’t have changed my mind on whether or not to stay over here.”
“I really enjoyed my season with Shelbourne. It gave me a new sense of enjoyment for the game. Training sessions were competitive, and you could never be sure as to who would start at the weekend, which was a good thing. Unfortunately, we came up just short against a very good Peamount side, but credit to them as they were the more consistent side throughout the season.”
— Charlton Athletic Women (@CAFCWomen) November 27, 2019
So, what differences has she noticed between the game in England compared to the game here in Ireland: “The main difference that I have noticed is the level of consistency regarding the calibre of players. I would say that everyone at Charlton is at the same level, whereas it wasn’t as much the case last season.
“It just makes a difference in training intensity, as there’s little room for a bad pass or a poor touch. The same goes with the level of the teams in the Championship compared to the WNL. There are no easy games over here.”
After nine games Charlton find themselves in tenth place, just one off the bottom of the Championship table. However, a couple of wins and they could move up to fifth. Chloe feels they’re in a false position: “I think it’s definitely a false position for us. I have every belief that we have one of the best teams in the Championship, and that’s why I decided to sign, despite Charlton’s results, but goals win games.
“We’ve dominated in most matches but when it comes to getting the ball in the back of the net, we struggle. We’re trying to change things going forward for the rest of the season, so hopefully we’ll start to creep our way back up to the top.”
With the Irish National League running throughout the summer Mustaki hasn’t had much of a break. She also played for the Ireland Universities side in the 2019 FISU Summer Universiade in Naples, finishing in fourth place. It’s something her new club will have to manage as the season progresses. Mustaki said it’s not something she thinks about, but: “I will have about a two-week break when I’m back in Dublin over Christmas so taking it easy over that period might be a good place to start.”
Picture Credit: Shelbourne FC