Chelsea's Sophie Ingle on brink of winning 'incredible' 100th Wales cap

By Michael PearlmanBBC Sport Wales
Sophie Ingle in training
Wales' most capped player, Jess Fishlock, believes that Sophie Ingle could go on to win 175 Wales caps
Euro 2022 Qualifier: Norway v Wales
Venue: Ullevaal Stadion, Oslo Date: Tuesday, 22 September Kick-off: 17:00 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC Two Wales, BBC Sport website and BBC Cymru Fyw website, live commentary on BBC Radio Wales MW. Also available on BBC iPlayer and via the Red Button.

Wales captain Sophie Ingle says it feels "incredible" to be on the brink of winning her 100th international cap.

The Chelsea star, who was nominated for the Women's Super League player of the season award, will be the third Wales player to reach the 100-cap milestone.

Ingle, 29, says if feels "surreal" to join the exclusive group with teammates Jess Fishlock and Loren Dykes.

"I've been in the squad over 10-years and you just don't realise that you have that many caps," she explained.

Ingle, who plays as either a midfielder or defender, won her first senior cap for Wales in a 2-1 World Cup qualifying defeat to Azerbaijan in 2009 and was named captain in 2015.

While Wales' most capped player, Fishlock, won her 100th cap in a low-key friendly against Northern Ireland at Ystrad Mynach, Ingle's 100th cap will be marked in a Euro 2022 qualifier against World Cup quarter-finalists Norway on Tuesday.

It is an occasion fitting of the achievement and Ingle is relishing the opportunity in an important contest for Wales, who are aiming for a first major final appearance at Euro 2022.

Wales have not played since March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"We are just happy the games are going ahead now and we can play the game we love, Norway is the toughest team in our group," Ingle told BBC Sport Wales.

"But with no fans there, maybe that will play into our hands a little bit... It's a great test for us, we want to be as hard to break down as we can be.

"It's incredible for me to win my 100th cap. It feels very special."

Humble beginnings

While the pathway now exists for the likes of Carrie Jones to go straight from school to Manchester United it was not always so and it certainly was not a straightforward route to the professional ranks for Ingle, who began her junior career with boys' team Vale Wanderers in Barry.

Forced to give up the game aged 12 because Football Association of Wales rules meant she could no longer play with the boys, Ingle did not kick a ball again until her Vale Wanderers coach set up a girls' team when she was 14.

Sophie Ingle first Chelsea stint, in action v Birmingham
Sophie Ingle says her first spell with Chelsea as a semi-professional gave her the confidence she could be a full-time footballer

A spell with Dinas Powys Ladies and then Cardiff City continued her footballing education, before eventually Chelsea, albeit a Chelsea a million miles from the club they are now, came calling in 2012 to snap up the then 21-year-old.

"The support we have now is amazing and I hope it continues," she said. "The game has changed a lot in the time I've played.

"But I used to play with the boys' team and I've always said that made me the player I am today.

"Those boys pushed me around and treated me like one of them.

"It was a gradual build until I went semi-professional with Chelsea, that was the case for a lot of girls my age, whereas now the girls can be in good environments at a much younger age.

"When I first joined Chelsea was the time I first believed I could make this my career and improve every day."

Sophie Ingle in action for Liverpool v Chelsea
Sophie Ingle was Liverpool women's player of the season in 2016/17 and 2017/18

Leaving Liverpool

After a single season with Chelsea, Ingle spent a year with Bristol Academy, who were relegated, before switching to Liverpool in 2015.

A hugely popular figure at the club, Ingle admits she envisioned spending the remainder of her career with the club where she shone, before making the career decision to return to Chelsea in 2018 as owner Roman Abramovich had begun investing in the Chelsea women's side.

It was a simple dilemma: stay where she was or risk it all for a crack at full-time football at a club with grand ambitions.

"I loved my time at Liverpool, but when Chelsea came in for me I couldn't turn that down and had to get out of my comfort zone," Ingle added.

"I knew I would play week-in week-out for Liverpool, going to Chelsea was a massive risk but I had to do it for the sake of my career with club and country."

Sophie Ingle with a child Chelsea fan
Sophie Ingle was voted Chelsea's players' player of the year for 2018/19

Facing up to fame

Ingle, who is highly likely to be picked in the Team GB squad that will play at the Tokyo Olympics next summer, has hit new heights in the past year.

Her performances for Chelsea saw her named as a contender for the player of the season award in the WSL, a just reward for a season that yielded Ingle her first league title.

Her international manager says she can be "one of the best players in the world", but Ingle admits she finds it strange to deal with such recognition.

Sophie Ingle with Community Shield trophy
Sophie Ingle has won the WSL, League Cup and Community Shield with Chelsea who she is contracted to until 2021

"Since I've been at Chelsea, sometimes I'm out walking the dog and some little girl will come up and ask for a photo with me... I don't think of those things, people are actually recognising me now for what I've done," she explained.

"Obviously it is a really nice feeling but it means my life has changed a lot, it doesn't come naturally to me."

Luckily for Wales and for Chelsea, football most certainly does.

What they say...

Wales manager Jayne Ludlow: Sophie is an unassuming person.

She's not very loud, she doesn't share things as much as others, she's just very calm, calculated and very knowledgeable in what she does.

She has great ability levels... she is among the best in the world.

Chelsea manager Emma Hayes: She is such a good player.

She's so clever, such a great leader and - I've said it before - Team GB should be building a team around her.

Wales' most capped player, Jess Fishlock: Everyone in Wales knows just how good she is but you don't get the recognition when you come from a small nation.

But she's at a great club, instrumental there and I don't even think we've seen the best of Sophie, that's how highly I rate her, I think she's phenomenal.

She's such a good player, I could spend all day talking about how good she is, but how she carries herself as a person is what makes her so special. I will always support Sophie, she's the now and the future, she's a great role-model."