Chelsea manager Emma Hayes believes midfielder Niamh Charles has what it takes to earn an England call-up after impressing for the Women’s Super League leaders this season.
The 21-year-old former Liverpool attacker has represented England through the youth levels and scored six goals in 48 appearances for the Reds before moving to Chelsea last summer.
Despite coming through the ranks as a winger, Hayes said she believes Charles’ future lies in a more defensive role and backed the player to make the step up to the senior England side.
“I recruited Niamh to the club based on the fact that her performances for Liverpool against us were outstanding and I always remembered that,” Hayes said as she prepared her side for Wednesday night’s Women’s Champions League second-leg clash with Atletico Madrid.
“But I always felt that – I still believe she’ll end up as a full-back. Some will say wing-back.
“I think she’ll play for England in one of the full-back positions, because she’s got pace, she’s got power, she’s good in the air, she’s good one-v-one, she can tackle, she reads the game well, she’s a fast learner, she’s hugely intelligent.”
Charles came on in the 19th minute in the first leg of the round-of-16 tie against Atletico Madrid, impressing alongside the experienced Maren Mjelde.
Hayes added: “I think she lacks a little bit of self-belief but I think when she realises how good she is – obviously with the right amount of humility – then I think she’ll take another step. Wonderful human being and player.”
The Blues overcame Sophie Ingle’s early dismissal to seal an impressive 2-0 victory in the first leg last week, with goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger saving two Atletico penalties.
Mjelde then scored from the spot at the other end just before the hour mark with Fran Kirby adding a second soon after to give Chelsea the advantage ahead of Wednesday’s tie, which will be played in a neutral venue at Monza.
After being reduced to 10 players, Hayes took a lot from the first leg and hopes to put what Chelsea learned into action on the pitch in the return match.
“I learnt that Ann Berger is really good at penalties,” Hayes added.
“I learnt that the team can adapt to really difficult situations. I learnt that we can defend in a low block really well.
“I learned that Niamh Charles can play at this level. I learnt that the versatility amongst them means we can do even more tactically – they’re the big things I learned about last week.
“And I’ll say this, if you don’t have that setback then you don’t get to learn it. If everything is going comfortably often you won’t see where your weaknesses are or you won’t see where your plan B’s or C’s are so I got everything I wanted out of that game.
“We’re still in the tie, we haven’t won anything but we’ve done it with more learnings perhaps than we would have if there were 11 players on the pitch.”