Millie Bright was named in the FIFA FIFPro World11 2020
The Chelsea and England stalwart speaks about her place among the elite
Bright also reflects on World Cup regrets and Olympic dreams
Straightforward and self-assured, Millie Bright speaks the same way she plays. That unfussy honesty has also marked her steady, sustained rise to become one of the world’s leading players.
Bright’s status among the elite was further cemented last month when the England and Chelsea defender was named in the FIFA FIFPro Women's World11. That honour, bestowed following a poll among players across the world, reflects the esteem in which she is held by colleagues and rivals alike.
The 27-year-old could not, however, be described as having been destined for such heights. She wasn’t an avid follower of football as a child, didn’t play the game until the age of nine, and was still holding down two day jobs in her early 20s as she took her first, tentative steps in the senior game with Doncaster Belles.
Leaving home to join Chelsea in 2015 was the key landmark in her subsequent journey to the top, with Emma Hayes having spotted something special in a defender she has long said "can become the very best”. It says everything for Bright’s development, and the Blues coach's influence on her, that living up to that prediction has become a clear, unabashed target.
In this interview, the Lionesses centre-half speaks about those ambitions and her sources of inspiration, while reflecting on a bittersweet FIFA Women’s World Cup™ and looking ahead to this year’s Olympics.
FIFA.com: Firstly Millie, congratulations on being named in the FIFA FIFPro World11. How did that feel? Millie Bright: It was a bit of a shock to be in the final 11 but I was super proud, and being nominated is something I definitely work towards. These days, whatever tournament or match I’m playing in, I really do try to make sure that I’m a standout. It’s something I’ve become more conscious of as I’ve developed as a player. I’ve made the FIFPro shortlist for the past few years now and it’s special to me because you know that these votes are coming from your fellow players. That kind of recognition, from people you’ve come up against, is as good as it gets.
Your standing in the game has been rising steadily over recent years. Is that something you’ve been conscious of, and anxious to maintain? One hundred per cent. I compare myself to the best and over the past few years I’ve been looking at someone like Wendie Renard, asking myself what she does to make sure she’s always so successful – and always in that top 11. For me, it’s because she’s always so consistent in everything she does and not just content to stay at the top – she’s always looking to improve and make herself even better. She’s a tremendous leader and so often in big games she makes the difference, whether that’s with a big goal from a set piece or just by driving her team on to continuously win. That’s something I’ve tried to add to my game; just trying to stand out and be one of the players who really pushes the team on, both with Chelsea and England. I’ve tried to improve defensively and also add something to my game in the way I play going forward, both in terms of possession and in bringing more goals. And I do feel I’m getting better in that respect. Above all I want to win trophies, and Wendie Renard is always winning. That’s why she’s been a good example for me to look to.
For all Renard’s attributes and achievements, she missed out in The Best FIFA Women’s Player to another player you know very well. What can you tell us about Lucy Bronze? Lucy earned that award because she’s someone who’s grafted every single day of her career. As she said herself in her speech, she also has a real competitive edge and will to win in everything she does. I think that determination to stand out and become the best has been an important element in her rising to the level she’s reached. If there’s anyone who provides an example of how to go about continually improving and achieving your goals, it’s Lucy Bronze. She’s definitely been an inspiration to me and I was absolutely delighted for her because she truly deserves it.
With two defenders in the final three, and one of those taking home the trophy, does it spark any dreams in you of winning that particular award one day? It’s there in the back of my mind, but it’s about the process for me. I just want to keep improving every day and become the best player I can be. If eventually I’m ticking all boxes, there’s no reason why I can’t be up there challenging for it. Lucy winning this year shows that it’s possible for defenders. But I won’t get caught up focusing on it.
Finally on The Best, Emma Hayes just missed out on the coaching award. But how important has she been to you, and what can you say about her? Em’s probably the reason I’ve pushed on so much over the past few years. She’s a tremendous coach and a great person. She knows how to get the best out of players. When you look at the journey we’ve been on at Chelsea over the past few years, and the successes we’ve had, Em’s driven all of that. She’s a born winner herself and she’s not afraid to make changes if they’re going to knock down barriers in our way. That determination she has to be the best has really rubbed off on me and pushed me on to believe in myself and never give in. She’s the best manager I’ve played under and I’m really excited to see where she can take this team.
Given your respect for Emma, and the ambition Chelsea have shown, was the decision to extend your contract recently an easy one? Definitely. There were no doubts in my mind. I’ve achieved so much since being here but I know that there’s still so much to come, both from me personally and from this club. I also know that, under Emma, there will always be a drive to be better no matter what we achieve. It’s all about being humble here. The same expectations and demands are placed on everyone, and it’s all geared towards becoming the best.
Are you surprised yourself at the levels you’re reaching in the game now, given you didn’t play football – and weren’t even a big football fan – as a young kid? It is crazy to think about the journey I’ve been on. I didn’t really play football until I was nine, and it’s not all that long ago I was playing part-time and nowhere near the level I’m at now. I always like to think about where I came from and what it’s taken to get here, and I feel the experiences I had when I was younger have helped mould me into the player I am now. Things have changed a lot for the better too. It really wasn’t clear to me when I started out that I could make a career out of football, whereas girls can now see that anything is possible if you have the talent and work hard enough. Each generation of women’s players has a responsibility to keep on growing the game and making things easier for the generation that follows, and I think we’re doing a good job of that right now.
One of the things that’s helping drive that growth is social media clips showcasing the quality in women’s football, and your wonder goal in the Community Shield has been one of those viral moments. Can you tell us about it? I don’t think it gets much better than scoring a goal like that in a stadium like Wembley. The only thing that would have topped it is if there were fans there to see it. But it still felt electric. The girls are often telling me to have a go from distance; JiJi (Ji Soyun) always says, ‘When I pass to you, take one touch and shoot!’ It’s just a case of being confident enough to do it. I want to show that shot wasn’t a one-off, and it would be good if it was something I became known for. That said, I think I’ll do well to score a better goal than that one!
Turning to the 2019 Women’s World Cup, how do you reflect on that now? Bittersweet, given the way it ended (with a red card against USA in England's semi-final defeat) and the fact you'd played so well until then? I’d say bittersweet is right. At first the main emotion was definitely disappointment, feeling angry with myself. But after some long, hard reflection, I was able to feel proud too for the journey I’d been on through that tournament. It (the red card) happened, I make no excuses, but it’s football, these things do happen, and many other players have been in the same situation. If I could go back, I’d change things of course – just in terms of containing my emotions and my decision-making, because I didn’t need to go into that tackle. But I was proud of the team, proud to be part of my first World Cup and all of the successes that came with that. Again, I’ve appreciated that more over time. At first I was really upset and didn’t feel we’d succeeded or really progressed. But looking at the bigger picture, and with a bit of time to reflect, I can see that we did.
The Olympics is obviously the next big international event on the horizon. How excited are you by the prospect of being part of a Great Britain team in Tokyo? It would be massive. Speaking to the girls who were involved in 2012, they always say what a unique, incredible experience it was, with all the different sports and athletes coming together. That’s probably the thing I’m most excited about, and I’m working really hard at the minute to make sure I put myself in the best possible position to be selected. I’ve always enjoyed watching the Olympics as a fan. No matter what sport you watch, there’s the feeling of, ‘Oh my God, this is the Olympics’. There’s a special vibe and excitement to it, I think – seeing all these amazing athletes who’ve trained for years to reach that point. I’d love to be a part of it.