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Chelsea and Australia striker Sam Kerr on settling in England, Kirby form and Olympic hopes

Australia striker Sam Kerr is living every footballer’s dream. Her club side, Chelsea, have already secured the League Cup, sit two points clear at the top of the FA Women’s Super League, and head into the second leg of their UEFA Women’s Champions League quarterfinal tie this week against VfL Wolfsburg holding a 2-1 advantage on aggregate.

While Chelsea are hitting all their collective targets so far, Kerr has hit a personal purple patch, netting 14 goals in 18 WSL appearances to put her second in the scoring charts behind Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema.

Kerr is understandably all smiles as she snuggles deep into her oversized hoodie while chatting to ESPN and, somehow, the struggles of the early months in Chelsea blue — scoring just once in her first seven appearances — seem a distant memory.

“People can underestimate how difficult it is to move across the world and be away from family and those types of things,” Kerr reflects of her decision to leave NWSL side Chicago Red Stars for England in November 2019. “I’ve always said I’m someone that plays better when I’m happy and I’m comfortable.

“It was tough coming over here, the first few months, I found it really difficult… Once I was settled I found my feet, focused fully on football and I’m really enjoying it.”

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Chelsea are certainly reaping the rewards of a settled Kerr in their star-studded frontline and the combination she has formed with strike partner Fran Kirby is a joy to behold, with the pair accounting for 31 goals between them across all competitions this season.

Chelsea coach Emma Hayes has likened the Kirby-Kerr partnership to that of Manchester United’s Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole who obliterated opposition defences in 1999 on their way to completing the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup treble. She told Sky Sports: “They just get each other. That’s not coached, that’s just trying to put them in the right spaces and they figure the rest out. They are talented, world-class players and I think all the praise is fully justified.”

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For Kerr, it’s even more simple.

“When you play with someone as good as Fran it’s pretty easy to play with her,” she tells ESPN. “She’s in amazing form herself this year, she’s a team player — you can see that with how many goals she’s assisted this year (nine in the WSL) and I know she wants to win as much as I do and I know that whenever she gets the ball something’s going to happen. I’m always on the move whenever she has it — this is why I came to Chelsea, to play with players like Fran.”

Being surrounded with world-class talent isn’t the only benefit Kerr is reaping from her European move, the experience of playing across myriad competitions for different silverware has been a revelation.

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“Honestly, that’s been the nicest surprise for me, I find it really interesting,” she says. “It takes more than just rocking up on a Sunday and winning. It’s kind of like a chess match all year, you have to rest players on certain days for injuries, yellow and red cards carrying over — it’s crazy, there’s more that goes into the game than picking the best squad. I’m really enjoying that side of it… it’s a side of football I haven’t really experienced so it’s a good learning curve too.”

As both the WSL and the Champions League head into the closing stages, next week Kerr and her teammates will temporarily change their focus from club to country during the FIFA international window.

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For the Matildas captain, the chance to get into a camp with her Australia teammates has been a long time coming. The national team have not come together since their win in Vietnam in March 2020, where Kerr scored in the 2-1 victory at Cua Ong Stadium which secured their qualification for the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

This upcoming camp will see the Europe-based players link up to face both Germany and the Netherlands under new head coach Tony Gustavsson and while their opponents have had the chance to train together over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the Australians having that opportunity. However, that creates a challenge Kerr is relishing.

“We just have to play with this chip on our shoulder that the other teams have been able have national team camps and we haven’t and we have to use it to our advantage,” she says. “That’s such an Aussie thing anyway, to play as the underdog.”

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These matches form part of the preparation for the Olympics and while Kerr hasn’t given too much thought to that tournament yet, she’s pragmatic about what the experience may be like.

“It’s one of those things where we’ll have to go with the flow,” she says. “We can’t get too caught up on not having a village, maybe not having an opening ceremony. It’s going to be kind of a business trip: fly in, get what we need done, fly out. At the end of the day it’s still an Olympics, still a major tournament for us, so we’ve got to do everything we can to win a medal.”

No matter what the occasion, pulling on the green and gold jersey is always special for Kerr, who made her debut in Australian colours some 12 years ago at the tender age of 15.

“You can’t describe it, it’s something I’ll never, ever take for granted,” she adds. “It’s always the biggest honour to play for my country and I think it’s even more special when you play with girls that you’ve grown up with and you’ve seen them and spent more time with them than your family. It’s an unbelievable feeling and it’s something that I’ve missed for sure and I think being away from it has made me appreciate it even more.”

However, there are almost four months to wait until the Matildas line up in Tokyo, so right now Kerr’s focus is on Chelsea’s trip to Hungary and a stern test against Wolfsburg to secure a semifinal spot in the Champions League.

“They’re a tough team, they’re rough, they get in and they can run all day,” she says. “We’re going to have to be up for the fight and we aren’t going there to tie, we’re going there to win. We are playing in Budapest on Wednesday, it’s 21 [degrees Celsius] — all the girls are dreading it but I think I’m going to come alive. This is my moment to shine, in the sun.”

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