Three consecutive league titles, five FA Cups, a UEFA Cup and League Cup may adorn the playing CV of England and Chelsea star Karen Carney, but her career was overshadowed by suffocating battles with mental health.

In an exclusive interview with UCFB, she said: “Football was my escapism and kept me afloat at times, but I wasn’t right for quite a long period of time. When I was 16 my mum was sick quite badly, but I had football. Then, when I moved to America my mum got sick again, though this time I got injured, so I didn’t have the escapism of football.”

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The then-21-year-old faced the daunting prospect of surgery, was thousands of miles away from family and friends and, for the first time in her life, could not play football. Carney, twice named FA Young Player of the Year and bursting with potential, then spiraled into a darkening descent of depression and self-loathing.

She said: “That was the trigger for me; I got into a very, very bad situation. It forced me to realise I can’t rely on football, I’ve got to build myself on concrete and not on sand, because I will always crumble if my foundations aren’t right.”

The winger, who is England’s second most capped player of all time, made the admirable decision to go to rehab and, eventually, to leave America. She added: “I gave up my professional career because of my mental health. It was either stay there and maybe not be here today, more broadly, if I’m being totally honest, or come home.”

But the devastating end to a brilliant career brought its own twist of fate for Carney, who was able to explore other avenues for the first time in her life.



She explained: “When I was in rehab they said to go and do a Master’s in psychology so you understand more about your behaviours and why you might think certain things. So that’s what I did.”

Never considering herself academic, Carney added: “The Master’s is probably one of the proudest things I’ve done. It was a challenge, but it felt very accomplishing.”

Since retiring from the professional game in 2019, and taking the time to prioritise her mental health, the Brummie hasn’t exactly taken a back-seat. Immersing herself in the sport behind the scenes, Carney writes for BBC Sport, works for BBC Radio 5 Live and is embarking on yet another Master’s – this time an MBA.