Picture by 2020 Getty Images

Q&A: Korean women's footballer Ji So-yun on English football, Chelsea success, and Olympic dream

The South Korea midfielder tells Olympic Channel why it was difficult when she first arrived in England, how she found her feet in the WSL, and who would be in her dream five-a-side team.
By Andrew Binner

Ji So-Yun has become one of the biggest names in women's football since arriving at Chelsea FC in 2014.

In her first season in England, the Korean midfielder was named Player's Player of the Year and was also included in the PFA WSL Team of the Year.

Technically gifted, she regularly scores goals on the biggest occasions, like the 2015 F.A Cup final, which Chelsea won 4-0 against Sunderland.

Internationally, Seoul-born Ji's stats are equally impressive. After becoming her nation's youngest goal scorer (15 years, 282 days) in 2006, she is now South Korea's top scorer ever. Her achievements were recognised in her appointment as the first female co-president of the Korean Pro-Footballer's Association in March 2021.

At 30-years-old, fans are hopeful of plenty more goals to come for club and country. Could that include at an Olympics?

Ahead of Korea's two-legged playoff against China (8th & 13th April) for a place at the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021, the Chelsea No. 10 revealed why it was difficult to adapt to the English game early on, who would be in her dream five-a-side team and more. You can read an abbreviated version of the Olympic Channel interview below.

Olympic Channel (OC): What changes have you seen in the English League and the UEFA Women's Champions League since you arrived at Chelsea?

Ji So-yun (JS): There have been many changes in both the WSL and champions league. The WSL has grown stronger over the years, so our team has developed a lot, as well as other teams in the league. So it has made the WSL league competitive.

The Champions League has always been a competition with tough sides. When I first came to Chelsea it was the first time I played in the Champions League. I think it was really tough for me. It's always a massive challenge for me, so I'm proud to say I have gone to the semi-final with Chelsea. I hope we can reach the final soon.

OC: What was it specifically when you first came to Chelsea that you found tough?

JS: Before I came to Chelsea, I was playing in Japan for three years. It was more a technical, possession-based game. But in England it is very direct and physical. It was hard for me at first.

Ji So-Yun joined Chelsea in 2014 and as become a fan favourite
Picture by 2019 Getty Images

OC: At Chelsea you have some of the best players from around the world. How has that improved you as a player?

JS: I have improved with some of the best players in the world around me. We have a great team spirit, and I'm proud to be part of this exciting team. I'm always competing and learning from the team so I'm proud to be part of this team.

Sammy (Samantha Kerr) is a really great striker. She's good at finishing and her movement is really good. As a midfielder, she is easy for me to find as she's already in space. It helps me a lot.

OC: Last season, Chelsea won the league after a strange season that ended early because of coronavirus. What was it like to win a title under those circumstances?

JS: First of all, I was really happy to have won the league. Despite the fact that we couldn't finish the season properly, I think we played well and we deserved it. It was a shame we couldn't celebrate with the team and with the fans, but I believe even if we played all the games, we would still have won the league.

OC: In 2015 you scored the first ever goal in a women's F.A. Cup final at Wembley. What are your memories of the day?

JS: It was a proud moment for me because I was part of a team that made history for the club. It was the first time that we won the F.A. Cup. I was so proud of the team.

It is a massive stadium. A lot of Chelsea fans came to support us and it was a great atmosphere.

OC: Your compatriot Son Heung-min is a star of the Tottenham Hotspur men's team in the Premier League. Do you ever talk with him?

JS: Yes, I know him, sometimes we speak but it's been a while since we've been in touch. I'm proud as a Korean to see him do so well and I respect him.

OC: Korea's women's team have played in the past at World Cups, but they've never qualified for the Olympics. How big an achievement would it be for South Korea to beat China in the playoffs (8th & 13th April) and qualify for the Olympics in Tokyo?

JS: It would be a massive achievement for the country if we make it. Personally, I have tried to qualify four or five times so far, but I've never made it. We know China well and it's always tough against them. They have been in camp longer than us, they are very big compared to us, they are fast, and we will need to play at our best to win. I believe we are ready.

OC: What is your favourite Olympic memory?

My favourite Olympic memory was watching Jang Mi-ran win the gold medal in weightlifting at Beijing 2008. When I watched that I decided I wanted to go to the Olympics one day. That was a very special moment for me.

South Korea's Jang Mi-ran won the women's +75kg weightlifting gold medal at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
Picture by 2008 Getty Images

OC: Who's the best player that you've played with and the best player that you've played against?

JS: The best player I have ever played with is Sawa Homare, she's Japanese. She was a great player, and I'm so proud to have played with her for three years. I learnt a lot from her. She's a midfielder so I was always next to her when we were playing. She's a good attacking player and good defender. I need to improve my defence! She's really smart and always seems to know where the ball will go.

She is also the best player I have played against, when we were playing Japan against Korea. It was really hard to mark her. And then when I was dribbling, she always stopped me and took the ball! But I've learnt so much from her.

OC: Who is your ultimate five-a-side team? You are in the team and you can only pick one player per country.

JS: That's hard! OK, The goalkeeper is Ann-Katrin Berger from Germany. The defender will be Millie Bright and the midfielder is Sawa Homare. The forward is Sammy Kerr. But I feel so sorry to everyone because I can only pick one player per nation!