“I moved from my family quite early – I think I was 15 years old – so I really invested in football and always knew this was what I wanted to do.”
Young footballers are regularly forced to make sacrifices to fulfill their aspirations of going all the way to the professional game, and Johanna Rytting Kaneryd is no different.
But even she admits that she represented Sweden at this year’s European Championship and that a move to Chelsea would be nothing less than a ‘dream’ for the girl who grew up in Kolsva, a village west of Stockholm.
But that’s not to say Rytting Kaneryd didn’t have hopes of making it to the WSL. “When this league started to grow, there was no doubt that this was the league I wanted to play in,” she said air sports in an exclusive interview ahead of Chelsea’s game against Manchester United on Sunday.
“Chelsea is one of the best teams in the world. When I think about how I played when I was in my small village, this would be a dream.”
Chelsea may be among the elite, but Rytting Kaneryd reached a Champions League final seven years before her new club did for the first time – a remarkable achievement for someone only 25 years old.
Learning from iconic figures – such as Marta and Christen Press – who were part of the Tyreso side at the time, 17-year-old Rytting Kaneryd earned a place on the bench for the final against Wolfsburg, despite making her debut just months earlier.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t help her side as she remained an unused substitute in Tyreso’s 4-3 defeat, but the experience was invaluable.
“That was just crazy,” said Rytting Kaneryd. “I was on the bench, but to go on that adventure and be part of that team, with all those big stars, it was a really good performance. I learned a lot from being in that group.”
After being in the squad for a Champions League final at such a young age, Rytting Kaneryd could perhaps be expected to quickly become one of the stars of Damallsvenskan, Sweden’s top flight of women’s football.
But instead, she decided to go to the second level with Alta – for a very practical reason. “It was close to Tyreso and I had to finish my school – which I didn’t!” explained Rytting Kaneryd.
The opportunity to appear regularly also appealed to Rytting Kaneryd. “I was on the bench a lot, so I really needed it to get back into shape – which I did, so it was a perfect move,” she said.
If the idea of playing in the second division was to quickly return to the Damallsvenskan as a more well-rounded player, Rytting Kaneryd’s plan worked out a treat, with a move to Djurgarden in 2016 so she was back in full swing.
“I felt like I had become a better footballer,” Rytting Kaneryd said of her time at Alta. “People didn’t really know about me, but when they started watching me play, I think they realized I’m still a young talent.
“It was a really good move for me, to show everyone what kind of player I am.”
Rytting Kaneryd’s displays caught the eye of Rosengard, where she not only won a league title in 2019, but also played under Jonas Eidevall – now coaching Chelsea’s rivals, Arsenal.
“Jonas is a really good coach,” says Rytting Kaneryd. “He’s so passionate and we played really well for him. He knows what he wants.
“The first year I played a lot and we won the league. The second year I didn’t have that many starts, so I was happy to make the switch to Hacken.”
Moving to a fifth club in seven years showed the premium Rytting Kaneryd places in regular play, and she was able to do so at Hacken, who finished second in the Damallsvenskan in 2021 and reached the last 32 of the Champions League , where they were defeated by Manchester City.
But after taking one league title and experiencing Champions League football with three different sides, Rytting Kaneryd said she was ready for “the next step”.
Several clubs were interested, but Rytting Kaneryd decided the next step had to come at Chelsea and, after speaking with Emma Hayes, admitted that the decision to join the WSL champions “wasn’t that hard”.
“When Chelsea were interested in signing me, it was an easy choice,” added Rytting Kaneryd. “Chelsea is a winning club. I think when I spoke to Emma and heard the plan for me, it felt like a great move.”
“I feel like I can get better and better, so this step was perfect for me. Of course it’s a challenge, but I feel like I’m making strides in every training and every game. It’s a perfect match.”
Hayes revealed that Chelsea Rytting had been eyeing Kaneryd for at least a year before finally bringing her to the club and Paul Green, the general manager who will replace the manager as she recovers from surgery, said the club had followed her for “a long time”.
“We were looking for a broad player,” Green told exclusively air sports. “We hadn’t had a real winger for years, especially on the right, and we felt like we had to play players a little bit out of position.
“Johanna fits that bill. She’s a ball carrier, she gets you on the pitch. She’s very good one-on-one, she’s tricky and can go past players.
“She was definitely the type of player we were missing in our roster and once we knew she was available – we had followed her for a long time – we were happy to close the deal.”
Rytting Kaneryd also sees her strongest position on the right-hand side – “I think I’m pretty fast and I like to run,” she says – but is keen to emphasize her flexibility, a trait that has undoubtedly impressed Hayes. , a manager who is not afraid to change her formation regularly.
Hayes’ tactical shifts have seen Rytting Kaneryd play in a variety of roles since joining Chelsea, but she insisted: “It’s not about formation – it’s more about what role I have on the pitch.
“I know my strengths and what I can bring to this team, so it doesn’t matter if I’m in a 3-5-2 or a 4-3-3 or whatever – I’ll do what I’m good at and what they want me to do. I’m flexible.”
That adaptability has helped Rytting Kaneryd make eight appearances since moving to Kingsmeadow and, with Swedish team-mates Zecira Musovic and Magdalena Eriksson already embedded in the Chelsea roster, she says the move couldn’t go much better.
“It was great,” said Rytting Kaneryd. “It’s like I’ve always been in this team. I got into the team pretty quickly and knew some of the Swedish players before, which made it easier. I really enjoy it and feel like I’m going to settle in.”
Green is equally positive about Rytting Kaneryd’s start at the club, saying she is “getting better every week” and Chelsea are “looking at many years of Johanna being here”.
But despite enjoying her introduction to English football, Rytting Kaneryd admits there is one topic she didn’t want to bring up with her new team-mates: Sweden’s 4-0 at the hands of England in the semi-final of the European Championship this summer.
Rytting Kaneryd took on Chelsea’s Millie Bright and Fran Kirby, but unsurprisingly none of the Swedish Blues players were keen on reliving the events of Bramall Lane.
“No, we didn’t talk! None of the Swedes really talked about that match!” she said. “We had a goal and that was to make it to the final. But England were so good this year and we didn’t really have a chance against them.
“It’s always hard to lose and lose like we did, with so many goals against us, but it was a good experience to play my first tournament.”
Rytting Kaneryd prefers to focus on past achievements, such as making her debut in Sweden last year and scoring her first international goal against Brazil in June.
“A dream come true,” she says of her first international cap. “I always dreamed of playing in the national team and scoring against Brazil, when my whole family was in the stands, it was an amazing feeling. I had worked really hard to achieve this goal, so I can have this feeling don’t really explain.”
“Then playing the European Championship, my first major tournament. I’m looking forward to this year, I’ve achieved a lot and I’ve enjoyed every minute.”
After describing Chelsea as “a winning club”, it’s no surprise to hear that Rytting Kaneryd is hopeful of adding to her performance in 2022. “I want to win everything I can with this team,” she says.
But there is one trophy that the Blues have continued to miss, despite their recent dominance in England. The suggestion of helping Chelsea finally win the Champions League – and claim its own winners’ medal after losing eight years ago – brings a smile to Rytting Kaneryd.
“Everyone wants the same thing,” she says. “So it’s really nice to be a part of this.”