Sunday 06 March 2022, 23:11

Kerr: The World Cup buzz is already starting

  • Sam Kerr is Australia’s captain and all-time leading scorer

  • The Chelsea star is brimming with excitement for next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup

  • Kerr spoke to FIFA about 2023, breaking records and whether she’s about to hit her peak

‘Beyond Greatness’ is the slogan of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™ and, for Sam Kerr, it could prove prophetic.

Scoring more goals than any Australian in history and gathering golden boots across the world has long since secured, and cemented, the striker’s status as a national icon.

Yet that World Cup, which kicks off in just 500 days’ time, offers the genuine, tantalising opportunity to trade greatness for immortality.

Kerr, who turns 29 in September, recently finished runner-up in the voting for The Best FIFA Women’s Player and, incredibly, claimed six top-scorer awards across three separate leagues – in three different continents – between 2017 and 2021. She’s also well on course to add a seventh golden boot to that collection in 2022.

But for the defenders in whom the Chelsea and Matildas star already inspires fear and dread, there is bad news. Kerr, it seems, is just getting started.

“There’s definitely more to come from me,” she told FIFA. “Everyone’s trying to say 28 is the peak but people like Megan Rapinoe won [The Best] years after that, as did Carli Lloyd, and I know I still have more to give.

“I’m really excited about where I’m going in my career, where my national team is going and where my club is going. I feel I’m only just starting to play my best football, and doing it at a consistent level. Hopefully people believe I have more to give – because I definitely do.”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 26: Sam Kerr of the Matildas celebrates scoring a goal during the Women's International Friendly match between the Australia Matildas and Brazil at CommBank Stadium on October 26, 2021 in Sydney, Australia.

Conquering England and eclipsing Cahill

Raising her sky-high standards yet further would, given Kerr’s second-place ranking in The Best, all but assure her of edging up that particular podium. But even for a born winner who has become accustomed to finishing first, this was one runner-up prize in which she was able to take genuine pride.

“Some might have seen it as a loss,” she said, “but I felt really honoured to be voted second best in the world, and proud of how far I’ve come in my career. I don’t play for those type of awards – I play for my team and I play to win trophies. But it’s nice to be recognised and I’m not afraid to admit that I was really proud. I also think Alexia [Putellas] thoroughly deserved it, so there’s definitely no shame in coming second to her.”

Barcelona’s brilliant playmaker wasn’t the only award-winner for whom Kerr had nothing but praise. She also identified the winning blend that has enabled the empathetic but fiercely demanding Emma Hayes – her Chelsea manager and The Best FIFA Women’s Coach – to take her game to another level.

She said: “Emma’s an amazing coach but also an amazing person – someone who takes care of us on and off the pitch. She cares a lot about us as people, which I think allows us to perform to our best. She’s tough though, and definitely gets after you if you’re not doing what you should be doing!

“But part of the reason for joining Chelsea was that I knew Emma would challenge me, the club would challenge me, the league would challenge me, and it’s only bettered my game. I’ve had to adapt and I’ve definitely got stronger for it.”

There have been disappointments along the way too, such as Chelsea’s humbling UEFA Champions League final loss to Barcelona and Australia’s shock quarter-final defeat to Korea Republic at the recent AFC Women’s Asian Cup. But even that early exit couldn’t prevent Kerr finishing as the tournament’s top markswoman, and she also left India as her country’s highest scorer of either gender, having surpassed Tim Cahill’s erstwhile record of 50 international goals.

“Me and Timmy have a lot of mutual respect,” said Kerr, reflecting on that latest record. “He’s an idol of mine, so to break his record – and even be in the same sentence as him – I have to pinch myself. But although I enjoyed getting to that record, I’m actually glad it’s done now so I can finally stop talking about it!”

Raising the bar in 2023

If there is one subject Kerr will never tire of, it’s next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup. If anything, in fact, her excitement grows with every passing milestone and the steady ticking off of the days until 20 July 2023.

“I’m so proud that Australia is in a position where we’re able to host a World Cup,” she said, beaming. “We deserve it and I think we’re going to show to the world what an amazing country we have, and what a sporting country we have. “I’m just so excited. I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like and now, just over a year out, the buzz is already starting. We can’t wait to welcome everyone to Australia.”

Sam Kerr of the Matildas thanks fans after winning the Women's International Friendly match between the Australia Matildas and Brazil.

There is also a firm conviction that, on and off the field, impressive new standards will be set in this historic 32-team showpiece.

“Every World Cup improves [on the one before] in the quality on the pitch, the advertising and marketing off the field and in the profile of the players,” she said. “When I went to my first World Cup, I had to explain to people what we were doing there. Now everyone’s excited for it, the girls are getting more and more recognized, and it’s becoming a very important part of the calendar.

“2023 is going to be amazing. I think it’s going to be the best World Cup, not just because Australia is hosting it, but because the quality in women’s football has improved dramatically in the last four years.”

The trajectory of the competition, and of the women’s game as a whole, merely reflects that of Kerr herself. As she continues to rise, setting new benchmarks and smashing existing records, who would dare bet against this Aussie icon moving ‘Beyond Greatness’ when her nation welcomes the world?

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 05: Australian Olympian Sam Kerr is projected onto the Sydney Opera House on September 05, 2021 in Sydney, Australia.