The name Jenna Dear has drifted in and out of English football since the midfielder made a breakthrough at Chelsea in 2014.
The teenager was a regular in the England youth teams and after an impressive loan to Watford, joined Everton in 2016.
After the move didn’t work out, Dear dropped off the map for a while before joining Sheffield FC in FA WSL 2 last year, a move that had both rekindled her career and her love of football.
Now she’s signed a deal at Norwegian side Vålerenga, a club embedded in the country’s capital city of Oslo, in the Toppserien.
It’s been a swift transition from relative unemployment after Sheffield pulled out of the new FA Women’s Championship just last month.
The offer for Dear only arrived a fortnight ago; the 22-year-old visited the city and the club at the end of last week, signed the deal on Monday, and will fly out on Wednesday morning, just hours after speaking about her new adventure.
“I literally can’t wait to get started, all I’ve been thinking about is when can I get out there?” she laughed. “I hate the traveling, waiting around for the flight and whatnot, I’m just itching to get out there.”
Dear need only wait a mere few more hours. Indeed, by the time this interview is published the player will already be in Norway and ready for her first training session on Thursday ahead of a potential debut on Saturday away at Stabaek.
“I literally signed the deal yesterday after going out there Thursday and Friday,” Dear said. “We’ve [Jenna and her agent Ashley Brown] always been looking. The whole Sheffield situation gave me that opportunity. It was always my ambition to go abroad and look for a new challenge and see what is on offer rather than just staying in one place where you’re comfortable.”
She added, “We had interest from other teams. A team in Sweden was interested and wanted me to go up there but it didn’t feel right, it didn’t appeal to me. Vålerenga contacted us and it was quite quick after that. It was only about two weeks ago and they wanted me to go up there for a couple of days just to train and see if Norway was the right fit to suit my life and my personality. I went there last Thursday and fell in love with it, I just loved it.”
And Dear admits being made to feel so welcome so soon by her new club had a big say in taking the swift decision to put pen to paper on Monday, just days after her visit.
“I loved the people around the club, they can’t do enough for every player and every member of staff. It was the place I wanted to go, to experience a different league, a different culture, and a different kind of football I guess. It’s the right fit for me, I wanted a new challenge and something that would benefit me in the long run. The city is incredible. I’ve only been to Norway with England but never really experienced a city like it, it’s so lovely.”
After a year at Everton in 2016, Dear didn’t reappear in English football until she signed with Sheffield in April 2017 during the Spring Series in preparation for the new winter season.
Working under Zoe Johnson, Dear says she owes a lot to her former manager, who she describes as being able to have a “friendship” with away from the pitch.
“The time with Sheffield really helped me and I couldn’t have asked for a better environment to be around,” she said. “Zoe was incredible, I can’t thank her enough for what she’s done for me and my career, she’s pushed me on so much.
“I played most of the games, I got a load of minutes, and I performed pretty much every week and that was down to her, the staff, and the players I had around me. I just loved my time there and I loved football again, that was why I went to Sheffield, just to enjoy football again.”
Dear’s time and return to form in South Yorkshire saw her earn a return to the England setup at the start of 2018 with Marieanne Spacey’s Under-23 team.
It was Dear’s first international call-up for several years and even she admits she wasn’t expecting to play in their friendly match against Sweden, but went on to start and play the majority of the game.
“That was kind of the peak of my season to be honest,” she says. “Gaining recognition from Marieanne and going away to play 85 minutes at U-23 level. I expected not to go at all, I was on standby. I thought I’d go on camp, use it as a learning experience, and get as much knowledge as I could from the players and staff around me.
“I didn’t expect to play, I went there thinking I wouldn’t play. I was confident in my own ability but I’d been away for so long. After training she pulled me aside and told me I’d earned my place. I had a great relationship with Marieanne and Zoe and can’t thank them enough. I spent such little time with Marieanne but we still speak. She’s got her job at Southampton but still checks in with Ash to see if I’m alright.”
Dear goes as far to say she wouldn’t be embarking on the opportunity she has now if it hadn’t been for the faith Sheffield had shown in her.
“I think it’s been the turning point for me. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be going where I am now, I’d probably be setting for another lower-league team. The next few years are the most important years of my career and going to Norway shows my ambition, shows what I want to do, and it’s time for me to just focus on football. Zoe would just tell me what I’d done well or done wrong, I need that honesty. We still talk, we text each other, and it’s nice to be able to have a friendship with your manager.”
Dear made it clear when she first met her agent her priority was to go as high as she can, including playing for her country at a senior level. Seeing that the Ignite Agency had gained several players moves around Europe, Dear feels it was a perfect match up.
“Me and Ash had a good discussion when we first met,” she recalled. “He only works with people who are ambitious, we’re the same kind of character. I said I wanted to play for the seniors, no matter how long it takes me, that’s what I want to do. Every person who plays football wants to play for their country.”
She added, “I wouldn’t have traveled two hours there and back to Sheffield two or three times a week if I didn’t want to achieve the highest level. I wouldn’t be leaving behind my friends and family; my whole life is changing and it’s for a job I love doing. If I wasn’t ambitious I’d settle in England and earn a bit of money, but this is a job and I love it and I want to achieve a lot.”
Dear is also quick to remind people she’s only 22. “People think I’ve been around for ages since Chelsea but now it’s time to really push on and achieve as much as I can.”
The midfielder is keen not to “dwell” on her time before Sheffield, stating it’s “in the past” and that she wants to focus on the next 18 months of her career in Norway.
But the tagline for her signing video at Vålerenga is “Miss Understood,” a tagline which brings with it plenty of questions, but Dear is clear and concise on the perception people may have of her based on her earlier career.
“I’m a good player,” she stated. “I’m not blowing my own trumpet but I wouldn’t get the move I have if I wasn’t a good player. I just want to people to see me as I am and my football ability. I want people to look at me and think, ‘Oh, she’s a good player.’
“I want people to look at me and judge me on that and nothing else. Nobody knows the real me, nobody knows me outside of football. No one can judge me, I want people to take me as I am. Nothing else matters, I’m a nice person. People who know me well enough know who the real Jenna is, I’m one of the biggest softies ever! I think people have pushed my football to one side but that takes center stage now.”
Dear will be in good company too. While Vålerenga sit in fourth outside the Champions League spots, the team houses Netherlands’ Euro 2017-winning captain Sherida Spitse, Dear’s new midfield partner, as well as fellow new signing Julie Trustup Jensen, a Danish international.
“The team has such good players. There’s a lot of ambition in the club, in the team and there’s a lot of winners. It shows what they want to achieve, I just want to get out there now.”