Sam Kerr loves the biggest stages. Few players thrive under the most intense spotlight, but the Aussie seems to thrive on the pressure. “I’m a bit of a risk-taker,” says Kerr, who demonstrates on the court but is incredibly down-to-earth off it. “I love that feeling of being on the edge and that’s what those great moments are for.”
Last summer, Kerr kicked a long ball and passed Ellie Roebuck with two minutes left to force extra time in Australia’s quarter-final against Team Britain at the Tokyo Olympics. Australia won 4-3, Kerr scoring his 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-delayed 2021 FA Cup.
“It was one of the best experiences of my life, honestly,” she says. “The whole London derby was brilliant to do at Wembley and having fans, friends and family in the stadium after Covid times was really special.”
On 21 January, Kerr scored five times in Australia’s 18–0 loss to Indonesia in their Asian Cup opener, overtaking Tim Cahill as the country’s top scorer.
The day after returning from the tournament in India, which she said ‘raised her confidence’, the striker came off the bench as an exhausted Chelsea beat Manchester United 3-1 in the FIFA Cup semi-final. Continental League. Then, after a 0-0 draw with Arsenal that saw Chelsea win the league if they didn’t drop a point, Kerr’s form was second to none. She scored 11 goals in eight of the remaining nine league games, including a 90th-minute winner against Aston Villa and a quick and soothing opener against Everton three days later.
Then she put Chelsea 10 ahead of Tottenham as they came from behind to win 3-1. “We went down to 10 and I’m not kidding, in that locker room it was just calm, nobody is stressed,” she said. “I’ve never been part of the team like that. We didn’t have a stressful player, the coach didn’t stress, we all knew everything would be fine.
Four days later, in the reverse fixture, she scored the winner in a 2-1 loss to Spurs. Finally, she hit two elegant and bold volleys as Chelsea came from behind twice to win the WSL title on the final day with a 4-2 loss to Manchester United. There was one thing she wasn’t risking against United, her backflip celebration was not an option. “I got too excited, and I can’t do that when I’m too excited; I’m going to break my back,” she laughs.
Kerr returns to Wembley on Sunday, as Chelsea take on Manchester City, who beat them in the League Cup final, in this season’s FA Cup final. “If I could, I would play there every week,” she says. “It’s a beautiful stadium. When the fans pack their bags, it’s an amazing experience. Every time you go to Wembley it’s an important game, so I love playing there. And listen, sometimes it’s going your way, sometimes it’s not, but the most important thing is that I do everything this week so that I know that I did everything in my power to perform that day. .
There’s an extra boost Sunday for Kerr. “My brother, two friends, my mum and dad and a family who live in Milton Keynes are coming,” she said. “They weren’t all going to come and then they were like, ‘Why the fuck are you saving your money?’ You never know when your next time at Wembley will be.
Kerr is brimming with confidence. After Chelsea won the title, she said it was important to visualize the scoreline in the big moments to keep her calm when those scenarios unfold. Keeping a cool head is important as Kerr is more marked than she was in the NWSL in the United States or the W-League in Australia.
“That’s one of the reasons I came to this league: because I wanted to expand my gameplay,” she says. “I’m marked from close range here, but if they mark me twice or mark me by a man, then there’s someone else free and that’s what’s amazing with this team – everyone is allowed to be the best version of themselves on the pitch and if i have a bad game normally someone else has a worldie.
“This league has made me better and turned me into a different type of player, a smarter player. I love the challenge it brings. That’s why I love big games: you’re on point to do something amazing and I love that feeling.”
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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 manager Emma Hayes. The opportunity to choose one’s destination was odd, with trades between NWSL teams without player participation being commonplace.
“Most of the time at a new club I met the coach when I found out he had traded me, which wasn’t always 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 bit. I thought, ‘I’ve got another year to win some stuff in the NWSL.’ felt like I hadn’t really closed that chapter yet.
In January 2020, the time was right and Kerr was able to see if the manager she spoke to was different from the one in training. “On the phone, it was a little more serious,” she says. “She was trying to impress me and I was trying to impress her. Once I visited Chelsea and was able to meet her, the relationship relaxed a bit.
“She’s just very forward with me. I’m not someone who 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 sides have momentum on Sunday, with City clinching third place in the Champions League after an injury-plagued first half of the season. “Whenever there’s a trophy at stake, this team lifts it,” Kerr explains. “I thought after the weekend win we would probably have a day of relaxation, but we went back to it, straight to work, and it just shows where the club wants to go, where the team wants to go, and where individuals want to go.