'If I wasn’t in the Irish team, I probably wouldn’t be saving much and that shows where I’m at in terms of pay scale. But that’s fine.' Ireland ace Chloe Mustaki

Ireland's Chloe Mustaki has found the step up to the WSL a challenge
Ireland's Chloe Mustaki has found the step up to the WSL a challenge Ireland's Chloe Mustaki has found the step up to the WSL a challenge

THROUGHOUT her career, there have been easier roads laid out in front of Chloe Mustaki.

But then, if you took them, where would the challenge be?

The 28-year-old Republic of Ireland international could have stayed in her well-paid recruitment job in Dublin, played away with Shelbourne rather than take a 50 per cent pay cut to roll the dice and go full-time with Bristol City.

She might have stayed in the English Championship - the lower tier - where she could’ve learned her trade for another season rather than move up to the demanding environs of the WSL with newly promoted Bristol City this season.

And having not played a minute at last summer’s World Cup finals in Australia, Mustaki could easily have chosen to pass on international call-ups.

Mustaki’s life has been a series of hurdles that were meant to be overcome.

She came out the other side of a cancer diagnosis (Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) in 2014 and she later recovered from a cruciate ligament injury sustained in 2019.

She endured an injury-ravaged season leading into last summer's World Cup finals and yet still managed to claim one of the 23 seats on the plane.

Chloe Mustaki has had to overcome many hurdles in her football career
Chloe Mustaki has had to overcome many hurdles in her football career Chloe Mustaki has had to overcome many hurdles in her football career

Beneath her smiley exterior, there’s a steely determination to live her best life in the most challenging environment possible.

Game-time, though, has been her biggest enemy for club and country.

She candidly tells a handful of journalists in the swanky surroundings of Castleknock Hotel – Ireland’s team base - on Monday morning that continuing to play full-time football is not financially lucrative, but that she has no regrets over her life choices.

“It depends on what league you’re playing in and, secondly, it depends on what club you’re playing for,” Mustaki says when asked about the extent of her financial security as a full-time footballer in the women's game.

“Obviously some clubs have massive budgets compared to others.”

Acknowledging that she took a “massive” pay cut to play full-time football, she says: “I was happy with that. I got all my education, got all my work experience under my belt, I had some savings from working in a pretty difficult but financially rewarding job.

“For me, I had that financial stability and that safety net - [I decided to] just go and enjoy myself for a couple of years and see where it took me.

“Now, if I wasn’t in the Irish team, I probably wouldn’t be saving much right now and that kind of shows you where I’m at in terms of pay scale. But that’s fine.

“I can always step away at any point if I start to feel like it’s not bringing me anywhere.

“It’s obviously brought me to the WSL this season and we’ll see about next season. If you’re 21 years of age and you’re starting at the bottom of the WSL, by the time you’re 25, you could be earning so much more.

“For me, the aim is not to play for Chelsea; the aim is to get better and enjoy life in the WSL, earn enough money to be worth it and see how long that lasts.”

Born in Ohio to an Irish mother and French father, the family moved to Paris when their daughter was one.

Her parents later separated, and mother and daughter moved to Ireland.

Growing up, she played for Peamount United and UCD Waves and enjoyed a playing stint in France while studying there.

Charlton Athletic came calling but she returned home during the COVID pandemic to play for Shelbourne.

She admits to “falling into recruitment” and describes that line of work as “ruthless”.

And while she worked for a very supportive company, she always harboured ambitions of playing full-time football.

“I didn’t want to have any regrets and [thought] I might as well try and see where it takes me. I then signed for Bristol City and fate meant we won the League and we ended up in the WSL, which is great.

“Life can be difficult at times, and you can be unlucky… I had different options in the Championship and I chose to go with Bristol, and we got promoted…”

She’s been in and out of the Bristol City starting team this season where they languish at the foot of the WSL.

Mustaki earned a starting place in a 3-0 defeat to Spurs earlier this month and came on as a 27th minute substitute in last weekend’s 2-0 loss to Manchester United.

The step-up from the Championship to the WSL was bigger than Mustaki could ever imagined.

“It was a bit of a reality check in pre-season,” she says. “Basically, every game is more or less like an international game.

“There are moments in [the WSL] games where you are playing and you think: ‘God, that was a good pass, or Jeez, I don’t know how she got away with that’ - but you are playing at the highest levels and it is great to see women’s football come on so much from when I was in my early 20s to now. It is insane. It is fantastic to see and it is great to be involved in it.

“There are international players playing against you every single weekend, whereas in the Championship it’s hit and miss.

“You obviously have some internationals, but yeah, it’s a significant step up but it’s one I feel able for.

“I’ve still lots to learn. It’s my first season. Just over a year-and-a-half ago, I was working and playing amateur football, so I’ve gone from amateur football to, if not the best, one of the best leagues in the world so I can’t be too hard on myself.”

Even though she didn’t get on the pitch during Ireland’s three World Cup games in Australia, she reckons it was a “miracle” that she made Vera Pauw’s squad given that she was injured between December and April.

The classy left-footer made just one brief appearance in Ireland’s four Uefa Nations League games to date this season but will be confident of getting more minutes in the upcoming ties against Hungary and Northern Ireland, with the team already winning the group.

“I want to retain my place in the international team for the next few years. This year has been difficult being in and out of the team [at club level], we’re losing a lot of the weeks.

“But I have to make sure I’m happy, first and foremost in myself in day-to-day life. If I’m not over a longer period of time then that’ll be the cue to maybe walk away from professional sport because it can be quite difficult, quite a pressurized environment and I know there is a lot to life.

“But I want this challenge and I’m here to grow and learn from it.”