Anita Asante. Photo by Bradley Collyer
On Sunday, Chelsea Ladies face Doncaster Rovers Belles in the FA Cup 5th round at Kingsmeadow stadium.
Hoping to play at centre-back is Anita Asante, 32, a former Chelsea player who has won every domestic trophy while at Arsenal. She also has 70 England caps to her name.
She was signed by Emma Hayes from Swedish side Rosengard and is as enthusiastic about Sunday’s match as if it was her first outing on a football pitch.
Donny Belles are top of the WSL 2, the same division where Chelsea’s previous opponents in the FA Cup – London Bees were drubbed 10-0 two weeks ago.
But Asante is not expecting a repeat scoreline.
“It’s hard to say how the game will pan out,” said the London-born player of Ghanaian parents.
“On the surface you might expect it to be something like the London Bees game. But on the flip side, Doncaster are a team you cannot underestimate. They have a long tradition in the women’s game, Lot’s of knowledge about competing against teams at our level.
“At the same time, it’s the cup, so it’s anyone’s game. It will be about the team and the players who show up on the day.
“I think they will be a robust team, probably very confident. I know they are doing very well in their league. So they will use these things to spearhead their game in general when they meet us. Asante has just returned to England after two years in Sweden and is grateful for her centre-back partner Millie Bright’s advice on the key player to look out for in the Belles side.
“I believe they have a young forward, Kirsty Hanson,” said Asante.
“She likes to get in behind (the back four), and is very robust. She’s also a clinical finisher. That’s the information I’m getting from Millie who knows all about the Doncaster players.
“They will also be quite aggressive. They play a pressurising game. And are very combative in one v one situations.”
Chelsea will expect to dominate possession of the ball – how with they use it?
Asante, nicknamed Neetz said: “I would expect, that if that’s the case, we would have to be patient and smart.
“They will be organised and make it difficult for us to find the spaces, we like to find. It will be more about dealing with that.
“We need to be tactically clever, sticking to the game plan and working them into a position where the space will suddenly open up for us and for players like Fran Kirby and Drew Spence to exploit.
“I’m focused fully on Doncaster Rovers Belles at the weekend and Manchester City the following week.”
Asante’s return to Chelsea was a result of the persuasive nature of Emma Hayes who convinced her now was the time – the challenge and quality of football on offer at Kingsmeadow was just what she needed. She agreed.
“It’s about nine years since I was last here,” she said.
“The move to Chelsea was arranged before the game when I played against Chelsea for Rosengard in the Champions League. Emma Hayes has been trying for a number of years to get me to Chelsea and it’s the right time for both of us, so it’s brilliant.
“She told me that the game here in England had progressed, we were more professional, there is time to commit to training, and resources were greater, and that players as whole had improved significantly.
“It sounded like there was a lot of potential for growth.
“I had already noticed that – there was an increase in female pundits and commentators, which has given the game a stronger profile.
“And I also know from a personal experience when I played against Chelsea and Manchester City for Rosenberg, the level and quality of both clubs are so good.”
While life at the top of WSL1 is great, the quality coming out from the bottom end of the league must be a source of concern generally.
Asante understands the difference in levels [, she is also optimistic that it’s only a matter of time before that improves too.
“It’s all a process,” she said.
“Something that has to take time to develop. You can’t have everything straight away. A club like Yeovil may not be at the same level like a club like Chelsea, in terms of resources. It seems they are trying their best to be whatever they can within their own resource economy.
“I’m sure they would want to develop and get better players. But to do that, they are going to have to pay increased wages.
“At the moment they can’t compete with the top end clubs. So I guess it’s finding the right way to do it. And that’s going to take time.”
How about having the Premier League with its financial pulling power take control from the FA?
“Yeah definitely as part of a whole,” Asante suggested.
“For instance in the men’s game, you have things like image rights. That would help significantly. So why not share among all those shareholders, such as media companies and investors – that will help the women’s game.”
What has Asante made of the league since her return?
“The standard is really high now – a massive progression from when I left, Every game is challenging and you have to be at your best.
“All these elements you talk about in the professional game, incorporating rest and recovery, and training at maximum effort and utilising the massage treatments and stuff like that is important for every game we play.
“At Chelsea we are exceeding anything I’ve experienced before in America and Sweden. It’s difficult to compare with America as it depends on what franchise you play for. In Sweden it’s a different challenge. They don’t have the same sort of magnitude of resources – we are definitely ahead.”
After 70 England caps to her name, is there the possibility of an international recall?
Asante is not ruling anything out.
“You know, my first ambition when I came back to England was to come here and focus on the team. If England was to come up, of course I would consider it. I haven’t really given it much thought. A lot of time has passed.
“I’m happy to have a dialogue with Phil (Neville), or any members of his staff. There are different people in charge now. It’s a blank canvas. That’s exactly how I would treat it to be honest. I’m open to that kind of conversation, if and when.”
So what about her future after her playing career has ended. Again, Asante is positive and keen to remain in the game.
“I’ve done a masters and I’m yet to compete my PhD in Women’s Football,” she said.
“I am interested in the governance element of women’s football, the structures.
“I’d love to be able to contribute to the game after my playing career. I’m interested in a potential career in management or directorship – understanding the structures and resources players need.”
Is Chelsea aware of this?
“I think Emma is aware of my ambitions, for sure. We have had many conversations down the years. Discussion in general then about policy and economy of the game, the way it is going. I think it’s going to be exciting seeing what the next generation of players who are retiring, what positions they are going to be in to push the game on.”
So what does she make of the furore of the appointment of Neville as England manager – someone who has no coaching experience, and is a man at the head of the women’s game?
“It’s about not gender. We are asking the wrong question,” she said.
“We should not be talking about that in this way. We should be asking who is the best for the job? “It’s just football, everything is the same for men and women, that’s not different. Maybe how they interact with each other is. But that could be a great thing to have a man in that environment.”
Chelsea face Doncaster Belles in The FA Cup at Kingsmeadow stadium on Sunday at 2pm.
tickets re £6 and £3 concessions.