Chelsea women, Sophie Ingle, Bethany England, Ann-Katrin Berger, Jess Carter and Drew Spence, FA Cup 2021Getty

‘I had a lot of frustration’ - How Chelsea’s Jess Carter went from ‘not really playing’ to being a star again

Ask a player to highlight their favourite trophy win, and most will pick their first.

Ask Chelsea’s Jess Carter that question, and she has good reason to pick differently.

The 24-year-old has won six titles since moving to west London from Birmingham four years ago, but it is the latest of that haul that stands out for a player who, on Sunday, will try to help Chelsea reach Wembley again as they take on Arsenal in the Women’s FA Cup semi-finals.

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“I'd probably say last year's FA Cup,” Carter tells GOAL, after only a slight pause to think. “That was big for me because it was one of the first trophies where I feel like I've played more and contributed more on the pitch.

“As much as everybody can say it's a team sport and we all win the trophies, having not played much and won trophies, and played more and won trophies, I can definitely say it feels better feeling like you've contributed more on the pitch.”

When a young player joins a big club, there are always people who question whether the timing is right, but when Carter moved to Chelsea, she knew it was.

“I loved my time at Birmingham, but I got to a place where I started to get a bit complacent,” she admits.

“Because we didn't have the luxury of having as much depth at Birmingham, I felt like I started to - I wouldn't say I ever stopped trying, but I stopped maybe taking it as seriously, being as professional as I should.

“I just seemed to kind of coast through quite a bit towards the end of my time at Birmingham. For me to be a better player, I couldn't do that. At that time, I felt like I needed to be in a more professional environment that would help push me to that level.

“Everyone talks about yes, you have to set your own standards, but I don't know many 19-year-olds that are able to be super professional and lead the way. Sometimes you just need a bit of help from the environment and that's what I felt I could get coming to Chelsea.”

In her first season, she was a regular starter, but the following two campaigns would see her fill more of a squad role for the first time in her career.

“You want to win, that's why you play, but you also play for the game time,” she says. “For people that don't get much game time, it is difficult and it is about trying to find a good balance.

“Ultimately, it's the manager that selects you and all you can really do from a player perspective is give your everything, every day, so that you don't leave anything [behind] and hopefully that'll be enough to give you minutes.

“If not, you have to figure out the role that you are to play at your club and just do that role the best you can to help the team be successful.

Jess Carter quote PS 1:1Getty/GOAL

“It's a really difficult process when you're not in a team. Obviously, you believe that everybody has your best interests at heart, but sometimes you think you should play when you're not playing, and other people think you should be playing when you're not playing.

“You can go to Emma [Hayes, Chelsea manager] and ask her what you need to be doing and she'll tell you directly about why you're not playing, most of the time, and what you need to do. But we are also very well aware that we have a team with great depth and if you're not on your top game, then you can be replaced.

“There were plenty of times when I’d have a lot of frustration with Emma because I wasn’t getting the game time that I felt like I deserved but, equally, there are the reasons that she didn't play me and I respect those reasons.

“But I had a great group of girls around me to make me feel valued in the team and appreciated. I think we could all turn around and say that we have a great dressing room and the girls are often what drives you to keep going each day.”

Carter’s rejuvenation came around 12 months ago, when Chelsea were hit by absences going into the second-leg of their Women’s Champions League quarter-final with Wolfsburg. Hayes would often tell the 24-year-old to make sure to be ready if called upon – and she was.

“For me, it was almost a situation of, 'it can't really get much worse',” Carter says, with a laugh. “I had a bit of [a feeling of] relief and no pressure because it was: 'You haven't had any minutes anyway, so you can't do any worse than what's happened so far. Just go and play and do your best'.

“I'd probably say I felt quite free going into the game, whereas maybe some people might be slightly stressed having not many minutes. It was just a 'what will be will be' kind of moment.”

Fast forward a year and Carter is a regular again – be it at right-back, wing-back or centre-back. She was crucial in Chelsea’s run to last year’s Champions League final and their Women’s Super League title triumph, as well as that FA Cup win.

She has also been recalled by England, which “totally shocked” her. When she made her comeback appearance against Austria in November, her second cap, it was one day short of being exactly four years since her first.

Now, she wants more trophies. Chelsea are in pole position to win the WSL for the third year running and could reach the FA Cup final on Sunday.

There have been lows in this season - in December, the Blues were knocked out of Europe in the group stages and last month they were beaten by Manchester City in the League Cup final - but they have not dampened Carter’s mood. They are only driving her more.

“I think that gives me an extra bit of motivation,” she says. “I want to be leaving this season with the FA Cup and with the league title. I think that is the same way for a lot of the players.

“You're ready to go the extra mile again to make sure that we come away with the trophy.”