Champions League final | Sam Kerr speaks ahead of Chelsea vs Barcelona
The 27-year-old Australian opens up about her decision to move to London, Champions League dreams and comparisons to Barcelona forward Lionel Messi.
The 27-year-old spoke of her excitement as the London side prepare for Sunday's final. Kerr has been crowned PFA Women's Footballer of the Year four times already but was eager to stress that she is focused on team success with the West London side.
She also spoke of the comparisons to Lionel Messi and what she does with the six Golden Boot awards that she has already picked up in her career. Here's what Kerr had to say ahead of the Champions League final.
Kerr speaks about moving to London, winning the league, and comparisons to Messi...
What was it like, winning your first league title with Chelsea in England? Actually getting your hands on the title on the day…
Yeah, it was an amazing feeling, a lot of relief, a lot hard work has gone into this season, so a really proud moment, but mostly excitement and just a really proud to be a part of this team. It’s been a long season for us and a lot hard work’s gone into it.
Obviously everyone’s been talking about your partnership with Fran Kirby this season. What’s it like playing with someone like her and how special is she as a player?
Fran has clearly shown she’s one of the best player’s in the world and she does it week in week out for our team. And I think my and her connection is just special - everyone asks me, “Do you train it?”, but it just comes naturally. She’s just a superstar. And I can’t speak highly enough of her.
What were the celebrations like yesterday?
They were pretty tame to be honest. We had a little bit of fun. I think when you win a league title, you definitely need to celebrate it. It’s been, like I said, a long season, so we had dinner and those things, but it was pretty tame as we’ve obviously got the Champions League final this weekend.
I heard you talking about your Golden Boot and how special this one felt and you said that you felt that people had said you needed to prove yourself in Europe. Do you feel you’ve done that with the form you’ve had this season. How important was it to come over here and perform in the way you have?
What do you put it down to, the fact that you’ve been able to find this success on so many different continents? Not everybody finds it easy to settle, but you seem to have just found yourself at home.
It did take some time, but honestly that’s the life of a footballer, sometimes they go in and sometimes they don’t. But you know, a lot of hard work and sacrifice and dedication has gone into this season from the whole team, so I feel really lucky to be a part of this team because it gives everyone the best opportunity to perform and be at their best and I think if you look at our squad a lot of player have had their best seasons and I think that’s down to the depth that we have in the squad, pushing each other every week at training, and sometimes training is more difficult than the games for us, it’s so hard and competitive just to get in the starting eleven in this team.
How do you feel you’ve grown as a player and Chelsea have grown as a team since your move?
Personally I think I’ve had to add different elements to my game, and I think that’s one of the reasons I came to Chelsea was to challenge myself, doing things that I guess I’m not as confident doing. The US suited who I am as a player and coming here I’ve had to adapt and I think that’s mostly how I’ve grown as a player and as a team we’ve had so many amazing recruits in the last year, our team has gone from strength to strength, we’ve got players like Nieve Charle and Melanie Leupolz who have taken the team to a new level and like I said before, this team is incredibly talented and it’s hard to make the starting team and we’re pushing each other. I think this is the best Chelsea team I’ve ever seen and it’s the best team I’ve ever been a part of.
Would you like to see Chelsea in Club World Cup?
It sounds pretty cool to be honest. I’d love to be a part of anything where we get to test ourselves against the best, it would be amazing to be a part of something like that. And I think it would be a really good spectacle for women’s football to have the best teams in England playing the best teams in the US. I’d love to play any type of game with Chelsea against the best, so I think it would be cool.
You sent a tweet two years ago during the Champions League final (when Lyon were beating Barcelona 4-0) . Could you still send that now, with the women’s game having evolved so much, with the level now very equal between the countries.
I think the level in women’s football has jumped dramatically in the last few years. The Spanish is getting better, the Italian league is getting better, and the World Cup even, there so many teams that hadn’t competed and I think the women’s game is only growing more and more and even in the English league the race for the title is getting closer and closer every year. It’s got better over the last few years for sure.
Looking at the numbers, where could Chelsea have the advantage this coming Sunday?
To be honest I haven’t really switched my mind to Barcelona. Obviously the title yesterday was the most important thing for us, and we didn’t want to get ahead of ourselves with City right there. Looking at our team, we’re electric going forward, I think on the counter-attack we’re super super quick, so I think that has to work in our favour against Barcelona, but they’re a quality team, so we’ll definitely have to have a look at them in-depth. We’ll focus on ourselves but we have to respect their strengths and weaknesses.
What ways have you had to adapt to playing in Europe?
The biggest thing for me is that in the US it’s a lot of counter attacking, a lot of space in between the lines. A lot of space in behind. In America you didn’t really face low blocks, teams getting 11 players behind the ball and obviously those spaces become smaller and smaller for me. And it’s no secret I love getting in behind, I love making runs. So I’ve had to adapt my hold up play, coming to the ball. And my combination play has gone to another level I feel, because I’ve had to. I’ve been forced to be able to play quickly in tight spaces and that’s much different to the US where there’s a lot of space in behind and it’s just go, go, go. Whereas here it’s become a lot more tactical and I’ve had to think about what I’m doing.
What happens to you now? You’ve got the Champions League final, the FA Cup game against Everton then do you go home to Australia, do quarantine and get ready for the Olympics?
I wish! I don’t know what we’re doing honestly. We’ve got a camp in June. It’s all up in the air at the moment. The government in Australia is really strict and we’re not sure if we’re going to be let in. We’re just trying to figure out what’s the best option for us as a team to prepare for the Olympics.
You’re playing the Americans in the Olympics and then…
It’s going to be a tough one. I feel like Australia always draw a tough group. In the 2015 World Cup group we had Sweden and the USA in it. But you never know. Football is a crazy game. We got out of the group in the World Cup so we’re hoping to do the same in the Olympics.
One of the reasons you chose Chelsea was that competitiveness and that it wouldn’t be easy to go and win the Champions League straight away. Has it made it feel sweeter knowing this is the first final and it’s breaking new ground for the club?
Yes, it does. Whenever you’re doing something that hasn’t been done before it’s a extra-special so for us it’s a really proud moment, we’re the first Chelsea women’s team to get to the final, so it’s a special moment. But we haven’t won anything yet, so it’s special but we’ve still got more to go.
Was there a moment or incident where you thought this was a special partnership, or I’m clicking here like I haven’t with other players before.
I don’t know if there was a specific moment, but I remember just before the Christmas break I’d scored a few goals and Fran had assisted for every single one of them and we retuned to come and play Reading at Reading, I think it was, and Fran scored four and I finally assisted her and from then on I thought this is going to become something, I’m going to make it my thing not to only get goals off Fran but also to help her score and she’s an unbelievable player, if you put the ball where she is, she’s normally going to score, so I think after the Christmas break, when we played fast football no-one can keep up with us.
People that have played for Chelsea before say that when you play with someone like Fran, you just give them the ball because you know they’re going to do something. What does it feel like for you to actually play with Fran?
They’re right. You know when you’re with Fran if you give her the ball you’re going to get it back, so whether I’m making a run to take a defender away or a run to get the ball it’s always easy to play with her because she’s so unselfish, and it’s an amazing thing to be on the same page with someone like that. I think you saw in the goals last night, I don’t even have to look, I just know Fran’s going to be there, because she’s so hungry to score and it looks telepathic but it’s just hard work from her and I just feel really lucky to play with her.
Unfortunately, no fans will be at the final on Sunday. Under normal circumstances, how many of your family would have come over to watch?
Mum and Dad for sure. My nan, probably too. It’s disappointing, but we’re lucky now that there are so many ways that they can watch women’s football around the world. I know a few years ago they probably wouldn’t have been able to watch these games. I remember when we won the Asian Cup there was no way for my Mum and Dad to watch it live so as much as it sucks I’m lucky they still get to watch. It’s been nearly a year since I’ve been home and It’s looking like another year till I get home without quarantine so it’s been tough but I know I have my families support and I know they’ll be watching from across the world.
One of your relatives is your Indian grandmother Coral. You’ve said you’d like to find out more about your Indian heritage and become a role model for girls in the sub-continent, do you think that lifting that trophy on Sunday will inspire girls more than any words you can ever say?
I hope so. My Indian heritage is something I’m really proud of and I know my nana is really proud that I’m representing young Indian girls every time I go out and play so I think it was a really cool moment for my nan and my family over here that is English, they’re really proud of me too. So i hope it inspires young girls and we have the Asian Cup coming up in India next year so fingers crossed everything goes well in India and we can still get out there, cos I’ve never been to India and it’s something I want to get more involved in, learning about my Indian culture and heritage.
What do you do with six Golden Boots? Do you have to get a rack built?
My mum keeps them all!
The only man with six is Messi. Does that sort of comparison flatter you or is it frustrating to be still measured against the men’s game when the women’s game is making its own way at the moment.
No, I don’t think it’s frustrating. People are always going to compare, but I don’t find it frustrating, I think it’s cool that people are talking about men’s football and women’s football on the same level, at the end of the day, we’re just footballers. He’s a legend and one of the greatest of all time. I don’t think I’m close to his level yet but it’s nice to have six golden boots like him.
How important is the game for the English Super League given how long it’s been since we had an English team in the final?
I think it’s really nice for our league. It would have been nice if City would have won the semi-final too, and we could have had an extra English team in there, but it shows how strong the league is to have two teams go that deep and potentially Arsenal next year, it’s going to be only good things for the league, so the more English teams the better.
Will many people get up to watch it in Australia at 2.15 in the morning?
I hope everyone will get up! I think so, I think everyone has been following along, my mum says there’s a massive spread in the paper in Perth where I’m from, so I think everyone’s going to get up and support the Chelsea girls.
And you want to do better than Harry Kewell did in his 2005 final…
Fingers crossed it goes the other way!
You’ve had a number of partnerships, what is it about your game that makes that work when you find someone?
Fran is very similar to me, I think it just helps when someone is on the same page as you. I think everyone of my partnerships which I’ve had that have worked really well have had something different about them. Caitlin is obviously very similar to me but a bit more of a hold up player and i’ve worked really well with her and obviously Yuki is the master at passing the ball and Fran… I just feel like we’re very, very similar. I’m quick, we want to play quickly. One-two touch. It’s great for us that we’re playing so well together and I think it’s quite scary for other teams. When we play quick and fast, no-one can get near us.
What have you developed the most in the two years in England?
My combination play and link up play has gone to a new level. When you have quality players around you it challenges you to go to a new level every day and I’ve had to find a new way of playing and I’ve really enjoyed it. And I think my combination play has gone to a whole new level.
You play with such joy, obviously winning helps with that. But I also think about what’s ahead of you, whether it’s the Champions League or heading into the Olympics, the Asian Cup, the World Cup, it sounds like Mt. Everest is ahead of you. Is it possible to climb Mt Everest and enjoy it?
Yeah, I think so. [Laughs] I think everyone does just see the 90 minutes like yesterday and thinks it’s so great but it is a long and hard journey. This season has been so long and there have been so many ups and downs, there have been moments I’’ve just been like, I just want to go home. I’m missing my family, it’s cold, it’s hard, but winning titles and winning things like yesterday make it all worth it. So it’s not all roses and butterflies for sure, but at the end of the day I do it because I love it, so I yes, I do enjoy it for the most part.
What do you miss most about home?
Nothing compares to Australia. It’s just home. That feeling of being in your own space, the coffee, my family, my dog, I haven’t seen my dog in over a year. You can FaceTime your family, but you can’t FaceTime your dog and say I’m coming home soon, or there’s a pandemic going on, that’s why I’m not there. She probably thinks I’m just neglecting her, so it’s just the little things to be honest.
What do you have to say to those who doubted you at the start?
I have nothing to say. They get paid to write headlines and this time they got it wrong. They can just send me a bottle of wine in the mail, as an apology.
How important has Emma Hayes been to your development both on and off the pitch?
Emma’s been really, really important. I had a lot of people doubting me at the start of the year and Emma trusted me and always kept her faith in me and she was messaging me saying it’ll come, I believe in you, you’re the best player for the job, so her belief in me has really given me the confidence to get back into form and it wasn’t easy, so having a coach behind me has really, really helped. But also on a footballing level she’s kind of worked out what works for me and got me into the positions to be the best player I can be and help the team and I think it’s helped me and helped the team. But, I think her impact on me off the field has been bigger than her impact on me on the field.
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