The young Aussie has experienced a turbulent year but is in an ideal position to turn her dreams into reality
At just 21, Alex Chidiac is no stranger to pressure, the young Matilda has been performing on the big stage since she was a teenager.
Chidiac made her debut for the national team when she was just 16 and has been playing competitive football for over six years.
Yet in the last 18 months, she’s faced some of the biggest challenges in her young career. And she hasn’t been on the pitch for over half of it.
Chidiac was the latest guest on Sporting News’ Remember The Name podcast and spoke in-depth about her football life to date.
In particular, she opened up about her dream move to Europe, the heartache of missing out on the 2019 Matilda’s World Cup squad and coping with a serious injury during the COVID-19 outbreak.
For the lifelong Chelsea fan, playing football in Europe has always been a goal for Chidiac.
“Football from a young age is all I ever wanted to do,” Chidiac said.
“I was a massive Chelsea fan growing up so I wanted to be like Didier Drogba. I was obsessed with the Premier League.
“I remember one when Chelsea won the Champions League and it went into extra-time and Drogba got the winning goal, I absolutely lost it. It was the best thing. Every year I’d get a Chelsea kit from London, so I had all of the kits growing up.”
Every member of her family adopted a different team to support, creating a Premier League rivalry that would see them up at all hours of the morning watching football.
But that translated on the pitch for Chidiac, with her family and coaches believing she had what it takes to become a professional footballer.
“When I was younger, I had the backing of everyone around me telling me ‘you are going to be a professional footballer’,” Chidiac recounted.
“At the end of the day, they saw this was something I was super passionate about and it’s all I ever wanted to do.”
With supportive parents pushing her every step of the way, Chidiac started rising up the levels of Australian women’s football.
She played for junior representative teams, made her debut as a 15-year-old in the W-League for Adelaide United and was handed her first national cap for the Matildas at 16.
When she was 16, Chidiac had early discussions about moving to Europe with an Italian side. But in 2018, she took her career into her own hands and finally made her dream move happen.
“It was something that I’ve always wanted to do is go overseas and play football,” Chidiac said.
“A lot of that was watching EPL, La Liga and all the leagues overseas and being like ‘I want to do that’. As soon as I found out about that opportunity at that age I was like ‘how do I make that happen?'”
Chidiac got in touch with an agent who specialised in big European moves and after looking at a number of clubs, Atletico Madrid eventually won her signature.
At first, she didn’t believe that Atletico Madrid were interested in signing her.
“I remember getting the email at 3am,” Chidiac said.
“I looked at my phone, I don’t know why I woke up…I looked at my phone and put it away and thought ‘that’s not real’. The next morning he [Chidiac’s agent] called me and went, ‘no, that’s legit’.”
After a couple of weeks that included getting the contract translated and negotiating with the Matildas to let her play in Spain, she was all set to move to Madrid.
“I didn’t know a lot of information about going over to Spain,” Chidiac admitted. “It was more, I have to do it because I can’t turn down Atletico.”
Chidiac wasn’t ever concerned about the move not working out because she knew at such a young age, the experience would only help her grow.
But she definitely was pushed outside her comfort zone in her first few training sessions with Atleti.
“The first year, I’m not going to lie, it was too much going on that I couldn’t focus on the football things, it was more survival.
“I wanted to know what I was doing in the drill, I wanted to know what the tactics were but it was never clear.
“Even going on the field, I didn’t a hundred per cent know what position I was playing or where they wanted me to do, it was more like I just had to go on and play.”
A testament to her perseverance and determined character, Chidiac studied and earned a Certificate II in Applied Language, so her Spanish has definitely improved.
And don’t forget the 311 days straight on Duolingo. While she was looking forward to putting that to good use, an ankle injury suddenly ruled her out of action.
And it’s been that way for the best part of a year.
“It happened in September and it sucks because I was finally starting to gain a lot of momentum in training,” Chidiac recalled.
“The coaches were noticing how well I was performing and I felt really, really confident.
“I knew straight away there was something wrong with it, I always get up from tackles and I had never had an injury.
“I was told roughly one and a half months, so it wasn’t anything bad…but it ended up being nearly a full year now.”
— Alex Chidiac (@chidiac10) June 17, 2020
The innocuous challenge from a teammate capped off what had been a disappointing 2019 for Chidiac, and one she’s still recovering from now.
Earlier that year, Chidiac was the only fully-contracted Matilda to miss out on a place in their squad for the 2019 World Cup.
“Being the only contract Matilda not to go, not to even be in the train-on squad leading up to it definitely hurt,” Chidiac admitted.
“Especially after the tough first season that I had in Spain. I feel like I could have made a decision there to just not give up, but I probably could have not worked as hard as I did to get back into a good state.”
Thanks to Covid-19, Chidiac found herself back in Australia as she continued to recover from her ankle injury.
Atleti even allowed her to spend some extra time here at home compared to the rest of the squad, knowing it would help with her rehabilitation.
However, it wasn’t the easy travel story you might associate with a player from a professional football club like Atletico Madrid.
“There was no real precautions or anything happening in Spain,” Chidiac said.
“Out of nowhere, I remember one day where they’re like, ‘we’re going to close schools now’.
“Things were changing by the hour…and we were like ‘what’s going on?’
“[The club] said stay at home, they gave us a couple of dumbells and exercise bands and stuff to bring home with us, but we had no idea.
“And then on Monday, that’s when the full lockdown happened and we had to stay at home. The Army were patrolling the streets and the hospital that was packed, we lived across the street from it.”
Despite no decision being made on the Priméra Division season, a number of Atleti’s international players decided they wanted to return home for their health and safety.
“We technically couldn’t [return home] because we were still contracted,” Chidiac said.
“At that point, it was three or four weeks in that I was like ‘I need to get home’. I was really annoyed because a few days before was the last normal flight, normal being 23 hours as opposed to 45.
“So when I booked that 45 [hours], I was like ‘why am I doing this’. But obviously it was definitely worth coming home.”
For Chidiac, at just 21 she knows she has a lot of her career ahead of her.
But the resilience and perseverance she has learned in the last 12 months are set to be the trademark of her footballing style.
“To be able to bounce back to where I was before the injury, I was really, really happy with that,” Chidiac said.
“I’m most proud of the way I’ve been able to take things and keep moving forward.
“Obviously a lot of highs but I was kind of prepared that I was going to go through some lows.”
The last 12 months has seen a string of high-profile Matildas make the move to Europe, just like Chidiac did back in 2018.
Sam Kerr, Caitlin Ford, Lydia Williams, Steph Catley, Ellie Carpenter, the list goes on.
“It’s strange now, everyone’s coming to Europe…they can come hang out,” Chidiac laughed.
“After the World Cup, all the girls saw that we struggled against European teams and the way that they played. If we want to get better as a national team, we need to be put up against that a little bit more than what we’ve been doing before.”
But it’s Sam Kerr’s move to Chelsea that has particularly caught Chidiac’s attention and revealed a new, long-term goal.
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“There’s a way for Australians now, let’s go,” Chidiac said on a potential move to Chelsea.
“That’s definitely something I’m hoping for one day [playing for Chelsea], I’m not ready for it just yet. I need to make sure I’m there at the perfect time where I can get the number 11, and everything has to fall into place.
“I’m aiming for that as well. If I score a goal for Chelsea, honestly, it would be everything.”