Fran Kirby: ‘It’s tough to do the things I do at Chelsea with England’ | England women’s football team
“Before, I was so worried about doing the same as everyone else, always comparing: ‘She’s on the training pitch so I need to go on the training pitch today,’ and then I’d just break down eventually,” Fran Kirby says.
The Chelsea and England forward’s struggles have been well documented. Having exploded on to the international stage in 2015 at the World Cup in Canada, the 28-year-old has seen her stock rise but also has had her progress stunted by injury and illness that have, in her words, meant missing about two years of her career.
Now Kirby is flying again, as shown by winning almost every domestic individual award going last season.
“Last year I got my first injury while I was away with England so that was quite difficult because I really felt like I was kicking on at my club and I wanted to be here and play well,” she says at St George’s Park before England play Austria in a World Cup qualifier on Saturday. “I’m feeling good at the moment, so I want to make sure I keep building in this team and learning from Sarina [Wiegman, the manager]. It’s good at the moment, the group is in a good place. It’s probably in one of the best places that I’ve been in a long time in this group. Everyone is just ready to go.”
The injuries and illnesses have helped Kirby to understand her body and how to get the best out of it. She has reached a point where she feels comfortable explaining those needs.
“It comes with, unfortunately, having to deal with a lot of setbacks,” she says. “It’s something that I’ve had to deal with throughout my career, not just the illness but injuries as well and I think each injury, it’s difficult, but I understand now more how to overcome the injury.
“It is understanding my body, knowing when I need to take an extra day recovery, knowing when I need to do more recovery; like now I do recovery every day. I’m in the pool every day, I’m doing ice baths every day after training, I’m going late in the evening to do extra recovery at a gym. It is just 24/7. It is just constantly thinking about how can I get my body prepared to go again and again and again.”
Wiegman is “really open” to conversations about loading and rest, Kirby says. “I was picking up all these little niggles and not being able to quite give everything when I did come away. With Sarina coming in, in my first camp, I was rested for two days because we had an honest conversation about how I was feeling and how I was coming into the camp.
“Being able to have that honest conversation [is important]. Before it was maybe a case of everyone had to do the same every day and for some people that doesn’t work. If I came in and said I needed an extra day, that was a difficult thing to do.”
Wiegman joined England in September from the Netherlands, where she led the team to a home Euros title and a World Cup final. That, says Kirby, has got the team hanging off her every word.
“She’s a proven winner. To be in the presence of someone who’s gone to a World Cup final, who’s won a home Euros, you can’t fault that person, you have to believe everything they tell you. None of us have achieved it – I know a few of the girls got to a final before [at Euro 2009] .
“She’s brought confidence in and made us feel good about ourselves. She’s come in and said she was shocked at the level we were showing in training and the passion and drive that we have and it’s nice to hear that from someone that’s come from a winning team.”
England have struggled for a long time to get the best out of Kirby. The devastatingly clinical form she is in for Chelsea has yet to be matched at international level. That is in part down to the different skillsets of the players around her but also to the different role she is asked to play.
“I’ve had some really good conversations with Sarina. We’re both on the same page in the way that we want to play football: we want to keep the ball. I’m expected to be more in the midfield area rather than being higher up the pitch, which is a difference. But it’s one that I’m learning and that I’m trying to understand – and I’m working on my defensive role,” she says with a laugh.
“It’s difficult, because I link up so well with Sam [Kerr at Chelsea] and I do try and play the same way. But obviously playing in a different position makes it tough to do the things that I would do at Chelsea at England, but I always want to give 110% in everything that I do and I always want to be a creative player and I always want to be a player that scores goals. So I do think that I need to improve in terms of my final product with England because I’m a bit lower.”