Chelsea’s Sam Kerr: ‘I’m a risk taker. I love that feeling of being on the edge’

Sam Kerr loves the biggest stages. Few players thrive in the most intense spotlights but the Australian seems to feed off the pressure. “I’m a bit of a risk taker,” says Kerr, who showboats on the pitch but is incredibly down-to-earth off it. “I love that feeling of being on the edge and that’s what those big moments are for.”

Last summer Kerr chested down a long ball and slotted past Ellie Roebuck with two minutes remaining to force extra time in Australia’s quarter-final against Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics. Australia won 4-3, Kerr scoring their second and fourth goals. In December the 28-year-old scored twice in Chelsea’s 3-0 demolition of Arsenal at Wembley to lift the Covid-postponed 2021 FA Cup.

“That was one of the best experiences of my life, honestly,” she says. “Just the whole London derby thing was awesome to do at Wembley and having fans and friends and family back in the stadium after Covid times was really special.”

On 21 January Kerr scored five times in Australia’s 18-0 rout of Indonesia in their opening Asian Cup game, overtaking Tim Cahill as the country’s record goalscorer.

The day after her return from the tournament in India, which she says “elevated her confidence”, the forward came off the bench as a depleted Chelsea beat Manchester United 3-1 in the Continental League Cup semi-finals. Then, after a 0-0 draw with Arsenal that ensured Chelsea would win the league if they did not drop a point, Kerr’s form was unsurpassed. She scored 11 goals across eight of the nine remaining league games, including a 90th-minute winner against Aston Villa and a nerve-easing swift opener against Everton three days later.

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Emma Hayes has revealed Fran Kirby has completed a week’s training and will be available for Sunday’s FA Cup final. Kirby had been ruled out by the manager “for the foreseeable future” on 15 April as the club sought answers to a fatigue problem and there were concerns she would not return before the Euros this summer.

“I don’t want to put any pressure on her because I love that kid and she’s been through a lot, but she looked like she hadn’t been away, she looked that good in training and it’s nice to see the smile on her face,” Hayes said. “She’s been in training all week so I’m over the moon.”

Hayes described the forward, who missed much of the 2019-20 season with pericarditis, as a “generational talent”. “Rarely have I seen a football player that can do what she does in the way she finds space, makes decisions and plays with selfless attributes,” she said. “She has eyes in the back of her head. She is a winner every day. She is grumpy when it’s not going well because she wants to win so badly.”

Hayes revealed that she had had lunch with the prospective new Chelsea owner Todd Boehly on Friday. “He watched the girls train, [I] had a really lovely couple of hours with him. He was delightful, really passionate, he’s just a normal down-to-earth guy who’s really passionate about Chelsea, loves Chelsea. He’s ambitious, as we are, and it is a perfect fit.” Suzanne Wrack

Photograph: Naomi Baker/The FA Collection

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Then she put 10-player Chelsea ahead against Tottenham as they came from behind to win 3-1. “We went down to 10 and I kid you not, in that changing room it was just calmness, no one’s stressed,” she says. “I’ve never been a part of the team like that. We didn’t have one player stressing, the coach didn’t stress, we all knew it was going to be fine.”

Four days later, in the reverse fixture, she scored the winner in a 2-1 defeat of Spurs. Finally, she hit two stylish and audacious volleys as Chelsea twice came from behind to take the WSL title on the final day with a 4-2 defeat of Manchester United. There was one thing she wasn’t risking against United, her trademark backflip celebration not an option. “I got too excited, and I can’t do it when I’m too excited; I’ll break my back,” she says with a laugh.

Sam Kerr prepares to volley one her two audacious goals in the final-day win over Manchester United that sealed the title
Sam Kerr prepares to volley one her two audacious goals in the final-day win over Manchester United that sealed the title. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

On Sunday, Kerr steps out at Wembley again, as Chelsea take on Manchester City, who beat them in the League Cup final, in this season’s FA Cup final. “I’d play there every week if I could,” she says. “It’s a beautiful stadium. When the fans pack it out it’s an amazing experience. Any time you go to Wembley it’s an important game, so I love playing there. And look, sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t, but the most important thing is that I do everything this week so that I know that I’ve done everything in my power to perform on the day.”

There is an added boost on Sunday for Kerr. “My brother, two friends, my mum and dad and some family that live in Milton Keynes are coming,” she says. “They all weren’t going to come and then they thought: ‘Stuff it, what are you saving your money for?’ You never know when your next time at Wembley will be.”

Sam Kerr lobs the ball over Arsenal’s Manuela Zinsberger for one of her two goals in the 2021 FA Cup final
Sam Kerr lobs the ball over Arsenal’s Manuela Zinsberger for one of her two goals in the 2021 FA Cup final. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Kerr brims with confidence. After Chelsea lifted the title, she said that visualising scoring in the big moments was important to keeping her calm when those scenarios play out. Retaining a cool head is important because Kerr is more tightly marked than she was in the NWSL in the US or the W-League in Australia.

“That’s one of the reasons why I came to this league: because I wanted to expand my gameplay,” she says. “I am being closely marked here but if they’re double-marking me or man-marking me then there’s someone else free and that’s the amazing thing about this team – everyone is allowed to be the best version of themselves on the field and if I’m having a bad game normally someone else is having a worldie.

“This league has made me better and it’s made me transform into a different type of player, a smarter player. I love the challenge of it. That’s why I love the big games: you get right on the cusp of doing something amazing and I love that feeling.”

Moving the Goalposts
Moving the Goalposts Illustration: Guardian Design

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Kerr is settled in London after two and a half seasons but could have been there sooner, having been tracked by Chelsea’s manager, Emma Hayes. The opportunity to choose her destination was a strange one, with trading between NWSL teams without player input commonplace.

“Most of the time, at a new club I’ve met the coach when I found out that they had traded for me, with that not always being my first option. But I spoke to Emma two years before I chose to come here. The year before I was close but then I chickened out a little bit. I thought: ‘I’ve got one more year to win some stuff in the NWSL.’ I felt like I hadn’t really closed that chapter yet.”

In January 2020 the timing was right and Kerr got to see whether the manager she had spoken to was different from the one at training. “Over the phone it was a little bit more serious,” she says. “She was trying to impress me and I was trying to impress her. Once I visited Chelsea and got to actually meet her, the relationship relaxed a little bit.

Sam Kerr enjoys last weekend’s WSL title win with Emma Hayes
Sam Kerr enjoys last weekend’s WSL title win with Emma Hayes. Photograph: Dave Shopland/Shutterstock

“She’s just really forward with me. I’m not someone that likes to beat around the bush. She just tells me how it is, and I tell her how it is and we just have this mutual respect”

Both teams on Sunday have momentum, City having clinched the third Champions League spot after an injury-affected first half of the season. “Whenever there’s a trophy on the line, this team lifts,” says Kerr. “I thought after the win on the weekend we’d probably have a relaxation day but we’ve been straight back into it, straight back to work, and that just shows where the club wants to go, where the team wants to go, and where individuals want to go.”