It was 16 months ago that Chloe Mustaki took the plunge and gave up a well-paid job with an investment banking firm to become a full-time professional footballer in England, her salary halved in the process. And while it hasn’t all been plain sailing since, the Dubliner has no regrets about her decision, not least because she largely credits it for a summer like no other.
“I probably wouldn’t have made the World Cup squad if I hadn’t decided to leave Ireland and play abroad, so what an unbelievable experience that was for me,” she says. “And now I find myself playing in one of the best, if not the best, leagues in the world.”
“I think I would have had regrets if I hadn’t done it. It was a push for me to get out of my comfort zone, but my security blanket was to not have any regrets come the end of my playing career, that I had tried to go full-time to see where that might take me. And here I am: I’ve been to a World Cup and I’m playing in the WSL, so it’s fantastic. And it’s a nice reward for the hard times. It’s been great, long may it last.”
Those hard times have been well documented, the toughest of all being her battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma which began soon after she captained Ireland at the Under-19 European Championships in 2014. And then there was the ruptured anterior cruciate ligament that kept her out of the game for a year. She’s been through it all.
But back in April, it felt like the best of times for the 28-year-old when she was a member of the Bristol City side that won promotion to the WSL, having joined the club from Shelbourne the previous July. And despite limited enough playing opportunities with Ireland, having been given her debut by Vera Pauw in February of last year, she held on to her place in the squad for the World Cup. And now, she’s hoping to add to her seven caps in the Nations League games against Hungary on Friday and Northern Ireland next Tuesday.
On the club front, despite the thrill of now being in the WSL, mixing it with some of the best players in the world, it’s been a tough start to the season, Bristol sitting bottom of the table having taken just four points from their first eight games.
And after the club signed 10 players ahead of their return to the WSL, some of them with vast experience in the top flight of English football, including her Irish team-mate Megan Connolly, Mustaki has found it a challenge to nail a place down in the side, starting just two of those eight games.
“I’ll just have to bide my time, take the opportunities when they come and just keep working hard, keep learning. A year and a half ago I was still combining work with football, then I was injured for half of last season, so to go from all that to the WSL, it’s been a bit of a bumpy road for me, to say the least.”
“But I think I’ll be a much better player come the end of the season than I was in the summer just gone. Those days of working and playing were horrific, to be honest. So it’s a complete 360 being fully dedicated to my performance on the pitch. It’s difficult in other ways as well, your self-criticism, having a lot more time to think about it, so it’s very different - but it’s been an absolute privilege.”
“I’m definitely not there yet, I am finding it difficult with the step up to the WSL, it’s just a completely different level, it’s a ruthless league. But you learn pretty quickly, you don’t have the choice. And it’s where I want to be.”