Johanna Rytting Kaneryd speaks exclusively about joining Chelsea, reaching a Champions League final at 17 and suffering Euros heartache against England; watch Man Utd vs Chelsea on Sunday.
“I moved pretty early from my family – 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 fulfil their ambitions of making it all the way to the professional game, and Johanna Rytting Kaneryd is no different.
But even she admits representing Sweden at this year’s Euros and then securing 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 is not to say Rytting Kaneryd did not harbour hopes of making it to the WSL. “When this league started to progress, there wasn’t any doubt this was the league I wanted to play in,” she told Sky Sports in an exclusive interview ahead of Chelsea’s clash with Manchester United on Sunday.
“Chelsea is one of the top teams in the world. If I think about how I was playing 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 were first able to do so – a remarkable feat for someone who is still only 25-years-old.
Learning from iconic figures – such as Marta and Christen Press – who were part of the Tyreso side at the time, a 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 was unable to help her side as she remained an unused substitute in Tyreso’s 4-3 defeat, but the experience was invaluable.
“That was just crazy,” Rytting Kaneryd said. “I was sitting on the bench but just to be on that adventure and be a part of that team, with all those big stars, it was a really good achievement. 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 have been expected to quickly become one of the stars of the Damallsvenskan, the top flight of women’s football in Sweden.
But instead she decided to drop into the second tier with Alta – for a very practical reason. “It was close to Tyreso and I had to finish school – which I didn’t!” explained Rytting Kaneryd.
The opportunity to feature regularly also appealed to Rytting Kaneryd. “I was sitting on the bench a lot so I really needed it to come back in shape – which I did, so it was a perfect move,” she said.
If the idea of choosing to play in the second division was to soon return to the Damallsvenskan as a more rounded player, then Rytting Kaneryd’s plan worked a treat, with a move to Djurgarden in 2016 ensuring she was back in the big time.
“I felt like I had become a better footballer,” said Rytting Kaneryd of her time at Alta. “People didn’t really know about me but when they started to see me play, I think they realised I’m still a young talent.
“It was a really good move for me, showing everyone what kind of player I am.”
Rytting Kaneryd’s displays caught the attention 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 did really good playing 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 I could make the move to Hacken.”
Moving to a fifth club in seven years showed the premium Rytting Kaneryd places on playing regularly, 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 beaten by Manchester City.
But after claiming 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 that next step should come at Chelsea and, after speaking to Emma Hayes, she admitted the decision to join the WSL champions “wasn’t that difficult”.
“When Chelsea was interested in signing me it was an easy choice,” Rytting Kaneryd added. “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 be better and better, so this step was perfect for me. Of course it’s a challenge but I feel like I’m taking steps in every training and every game. It’s a perfect match.”
Hayes revealed Chelsea had been watching Rytting Kaneryd for at least a year before they finally brought her to the club and Paul Green, the general manager who is helping to stand in for the manager as she recovers from surgery, said the club had tracked her for “a long time”.
“We’d been looking for a wide player,” Green exclusively told Sky Sports. “We’d not had an out-and-out winger, particularly on the righthand side, for many years and we felt we were having to play players a little bit out of position.
“Johanna fits that bill. She’s a ball-carrier, she gets you up the pitch. She’s very good one vs one, she’s tricky and can go past players.
Rytting Kaneryd in Champions League action for Chelsea
“She was certainly the type of player we were missing in our squad and once we knew she was available – we had tracked her for quite a long time – we were happy to get the deal over the line.”
Rytting Kaneryd also sees her strongest position being on the right wing – “I think I’m pretty fast and I like to run a lot,” she says – but is keen to highlight her flexibility, which is a trait that no doubt impressed Hayes, a manager who is not afraid to tweak her formation on a regular basis.
Hayes’ tactical shifts have seen Rytting Kaneryd already deployed in a variety of roles since joining Chelsea, but she insisted: “It’s not about the formation – it’s more about which 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 will do what I’m good at and what they want me to do. I’m flexible.”
That adaptability has helped Rytting Kaneryd rack up eight appearances since moving to Kingsmeadow and, with Sweden team-mates Zecira Musovic and Magdalena Eriksson already embedded in the Chelsea squad, she says the move could not be going much better.
“It’s been amazing,” said Rytting Kaneryd. “It’s like I’ve been in this team forever. I came into the team pretty fast and knew some of the Swedish players before, which made it easier. I’m really enjoying it and feeling like I’m settling in.”
Green is equally positive about the start Rytting Kaneryd has made at the club, saying she is “getting better every week” and that Chelsea “look forward to many years of Johanna being here”.
But despite enjoying her introduction to English football, Rytting Kaneryd admits there is one topic she has been unwilling to broach with her new team-mates: Sweden’s 4-0 thrashing at the hands of England in the Euros semi-final this summer.
Rytting Kaneryd went up against Chelsea’s Millie Bright and Fran Kirby but, unsurprisingly, none of the Blues’ Swedish contingent have been keen to relive events from Bramall Lane.
“No, we haven’t spoken! None of the Swedes really spoke about that game!” she said. “We had a goal and that was to reach the final. But England was so good this year and we didn’t really have a chance against them.
“It’s always hard to lose and to lose the way we did, with that many goals against us, but it was a good experience to play my first tournament.”
Rytting Kaneryd prefers to focus on prior achievements, such as making her Sweden debut 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 about playing in the national team and to score against Brazil, when my whole family was in the stands, was an amazing feeling. I had really been working hard to reach this goal so I can’t really explain this feeling.
“Then to play the Euros, my first big tournament. I feel like this year, I achieved a lot and I’ve been enjoying every minute.”
After describing Chelsea as “a winning club”, it us no surprise to hear Rytting Kaneryd is hopeful of adding to her 2022 achievements. “I want to win everything I can with this team,” she says.
But there is one trophy that has continually eluded the Blues, despite their recent dominance in England. The suggestion of helping Chelsea to finally lift the Champions League – and claiming her own winner’s medal after tasting defeat eight years ago – raises a smile from Rytting Kaneryd.
“Everyone wants the same,” she says. “So it’s really nice to be a part of this.”