I went to Chelsea to push myself, says Kerr
Ha Long: A prolific goal scorer, a national team leader and the star signing at one of the world’s biggest clubs, Sam Kerr draws attention on any football pitch she plays on.
With 34 international goals in the last 32 months, and a string of individual awards at club level thanks to her exploits with Australia’s Perth Glory and the US-based Chicago Red Stars, Kerr is already established as one of the world’s top strikers, but 2020 looms as an opportunity to break new ground.
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A recent arrival at Chelsea, and the captain of Australia’s women’s national team – who qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on Wednesday – Kerr aims to show the European game what they’ve been missing out on and guide the Matildas to a maiden Olympic medal after a series of near-misses at major tournaments.
Speaking in Vietnam, where she scored in her side’s qualification-sealing 2-1 win last week, Kerr sat down with the-AFC.com to discuss the changes from Rio 2016 to now, settling in at Chelsea and which of her illustrious Asian teammates she considers the best.
The format of playing home and away qualifiers in Asia is pretty new. In the past it has been a tournament in one location. Are you a fan of the new system of playing home and away? In Europe it is the standard, but it’s quite new for us. What’s your view?
I’ve actually really enjoyed it. I think it’s much more fair. I think it gives both teams the opportunity to play at home and play their best football and, like you said, we’ve seen it all over Europe, so it’s kind of cool to be a part of.
Normally you’re watching it on TV in the Champions League. For us it’s a new experience, but we’re really enjoying it and I’m glad that it has come to the women’s game.
At the end of the Rio 2016 Olympics you had eight international goals, the latest goal against Vietnam made it 42. Could you have imagined what would happen in that time, and how does it change the way you look at the Olympics ahead?
I mean, not really (laughs).
When you’ve only scored eight goals you don’t imagine yourself scoring five times that in the next four years. I’m really proud of the work I’ve done to get here, and I think, going forward to these Olympics, it just shows how far the team has come.
I don’t score any of those goals alone, so for me it’s about how the Matildas have come as a team and really there’s no pressure on myself to keep scoring. It’s about the team performing, and the goals will come whether it’s me or any of the other forwards or midfielders.
Rio 2016 and the 2019 World Cup were both penalty shootout eliminations, the Women’s Asian Cup Final in 2018 was a late goal. It is always fine margins. Is it bad luck or has something been missing? Have you now found it?
I think it’s a bit of both. Football’s a funny game. Sometimes if you’re the best team on the field you don’t get the win and other times you go to a penalty shootout when you weren’t the better team. I think the team has grown up a lot.
Like you said, there’s been four years in between (since Rio 2016) so we’ve become more professional, become more accustomed to better facilities and training environments.
I think every time you go to a penalty shootout you’re a bit unlucky, but we’re better off for it and we’ve learned lots from it.
(Head coach) Ante (Milicic) didn’t quite come in right before the last World Cup, but you only had five games with him before the tournament, whereas this time you’ve this whole qualifying run as well as friendlies. Do you feel like you’ve had the opportunity learn more this time, and how much can that help when the Olympics actually come around?
I think even when we’re not in camp, we’re learning with Ante. He’s such a professional. He’s such a good coach. He has 100 per cent trust in all of us. He’s always pushing the girls further, reminding the girls how good they are and instilling that confidence in team.
I think the team trusts him and he trusts us and it’s a really good balance. We’ve had a fair few games and training sessions under him now, and I think it’s only up from here.
We’re going to be really, really sad to see him go (after Tokyo 2020) but hopefully we can send him off with a medal at the Olympics.
Not just for you, but the whole world of women’s sport has changed a lot since 2016 and even more so since your career with the Matildas started.
There were 86,000 fans at the Women’s T20 Cricket World Cup Final the other day, lots of big European clubs are growing the women’s side of the game. Do you have ever chance to reflect on how far women’s sport has come, even since the start of your playing career?
Yeah, you have those moments all the time. The hotels we’re staying in, the facilities we get to train in, the amount of staff we have our hands on. It’s just unbelievable. It’s an amazing thing to be a part of.
I just hope it keeps going forward, and I feel really lucky that I’m living in this time now because there’s a lot of retired players who kind of see what we’re going through at the moment, and, you know, that’s what they hoped for. I know they’re happy that the female game is reaping the rewards for all the work they’ve done, so I feel really lucky living in this time, but there’s still so much work to go.
I love seeing a packed MCG (for the Cricket final) or 14,000 (for the Australia v Vietnam match) in Newcastle the other day. I feel really lucky, but at the same time, I still feel like there’s so much more potential in the women’s game.
One of those big clubs is Chelsea. A lot of fans were excited when you signed and couldn’t wait for you to show European fans your ability, but is that easy? What are the things people don’t understand about the difficulty of moving from somewhere where you’re very comfortable and successful to somewhere new?
“Whenever you go to any new club – even when I changed from Sky Blue to Chicago – it’s hard. Changing cities, changing teams, living in a new, foreign place. That’s always the hardest part for me – settling off field and playing well one the field.
It’s been really enjoyable. I love Chelsea, but to be honest, the hardest part that people don’t see is that I’ve probably been there 10 days at the most for one period of time, so that’s been really tough for me.
When I first got there I was sick, then I travelled back home for the Olympic Qualifiers, then that got extended because of all this stuff that’s going on, then back home for 12 days, then back here, so I actually haven’t been there that much, but I’ve been enjoying it, and I’m looking forward to getting home to really dig my heels in and get amongst it, but I haven’t really had the opportunity to show who I am as a person or a player yet, which is tough because you want to become a friend in the team more than anything, and I haven’t really had that opportunity.
'These opportunities don’t come around often but with this team, it is an amazing feeling.'@SamKerr1 is delighted to have won her first trophy as a Blue! 🙌🏆— Chelsea FC Women (@ChelseaFCW) March 3, 2020
But you do have trophy already.
What was it like (beating Arsenal in the League Cup Final)? You’ve had a lot of individual success, but not so much team success. How was it to pick up a trophy so quickly?
Yeah, it was amazing. It was an amazing experience to play in a big game over there too. A Cup final against Arsenal, a big crowd, such a historic moment, and Chelsea had never won it, so it was amazing to be a part of it. I felt proud to be a part of it.
That’s why I went to Chelsea, and I was really happy with it.
England is a country where football is a major part of everyday life. Do you feel that? Is it noticeable, and does it change your daily interaction with the game or feel about going training and things like that?
For me, the most important thing is that football is everywhere (in England), That’s why I love it there. You talk to someone in a café and they know what you’re talking about. They follow all the teams, and the best thing for me is that when you turn on the TV, there’s football on. Whether its live or a replay, there’s football, football, football.
Everyone’s invested in it, whether you play it or not. Everyone’s got a team. It’s a different level there.
You’re now playing with (Korea Republic and Chelsea star) Ji So-yun, and you played with (Japanese World Cup winner Yuki Nagasato) in Chicago. Two great Asian players.
I’m going to ask a tricky question; who do you who think is the best Asian player you’ve played with, and against?
Oh, that is a difficult question!
I think – at this point – it would be hard for me to not say Yuki, because I don’t think I would have scored as many goals at Chicago without her. In saying that, Ji is absolutely unbelievable. I haven’t had an opportunity to play with Ji as much and create that connection yet. Yuki is unbelievable, Ji is a magician on the ball. They both just see the game so differently.
The best player? I haven’t played with her, but I can’t really go past (Homare) Sawa. I think she changed the whole Japanese mentality. Unbelievable leader, unbelievable player, and I think Japan hasn’t been the same since she left.
New chapter begins in BLUE, lets go! pic.twitter.com/8ljGrBKKP4— Sam Kerr (@samkerr1) November 13, 2019
In Perth and in Chicago you were the main spearhead and goals were always expected of you, but Chelsea has Beth England (the scorer of 21 goals in 24 matches this season) and several other top attacking players. Is there any difficulty in adjusting to that environment or do you see it as a positive?
I think it’s a positive thing, and that’s one of the main reasons I went to Chelsea. It’s going to be a challenge to make the starting team rather than just rock up every day and play on the weekend and not have to train well.
I think that’s the best thing about this Chelsea team; we’ve got 23 good players and, like you said, we’ve got a massive strike force, but feel like we’re all working really well together, and that was my main point when I came in.
I didn’t want to upset the team, and I haven’t really put my best foot forward yet playing wise with injuries, sickness, travelling, but I didn’t want to upset someone like Beth, and the fact that she’s kept scoring during this run is an amazing thing. She’s having a breakout year and I’m really proud to be a part of it and I’m happy to learn from these amazing players, that play different styles to me.
Finally, Tokyo 2020. We know Australia is targeting a medal, and wants to go far in the competition, but what is the most important thing the team has to do in order to make it a reality?
The most important thing for us is to just focus game by game. We want to do as well as we can, but at the end of the day you are only as good as your last game. We just want focus on that first game.
It’s game by game, stay fit, stay healthy, but game one is the most important for us, not game two, game three. Game one.
Photos: AFP, Football Federation Australia
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