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Sam Kerr: How Chelsea striker's legacy can inspire Australia at Women's World Cup

Sam Kerr already has her legacy in place for Australia and Chelsea, and now wants to boost the profile of women's game in her home country; the Matildas take on England in their first Women's World Cup semi-final on Wednesday to give them a chance of fighting for trophy on Sunday

Credit AP Photo/Getty

Sam Kerr is already one of the most recognisable players in world football. Her face adorns billboards, adverts and computer games as her native Australia look to reach their first Women's World Cup final.

Not only has the Chelsea striker still got winning domestically on her mind, she's also aware she's on the verge of creating a sporting legacy many only dream of.

She has achieved multiple milestones before turning 30. With her clubs, she has won multiple trophies in Australia and England, winning the Golden Boot in both countries as well as the USA. Alongside this, she has also picked up multiple player of the season awards and remains the NWSL's all-time scorer.

Internationally for Australia, Kerr is her country's all-time scorer, was the first Australian to score a hat-trick at a World Cup and is the joint highest-rated player on FIFA.

Add to that leading Australia to a World Cup on home soil and you have got an argument for one of the best players of a generation, even if she has barely featured in the tournament to date.

After missing the group stages, Kerr returned as a late substitute in the last 16 before playing more than 60 minutes in the quarter-final against France.

Now she's fit and raring to go ahead of Wednesday's semi-final showdown with England - the country she has called home since 2020 - and could play the most vital part to date in continuing Australia's historic run on home soil.

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"She pushed through more minutes than we hoped for to be honest," said manager Tony Gustavsson. "One reason why we kept her on the bench because we were uncertain how many minutes she had coming back from that calf injury, but also the limited training minutes that she had.

"The way she pushed through was fantastic and impressive, both from a mental and physical aspect."

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We take a look back at all the goals scored by Women's Footballer of the Year Sam Kerr in the Women's Super League this season

With the chance of a lifetime on the line against England, Kerr knows the power of the Matildas' performance can do more than bring sporting success. Even so, she hopes to be remembered forever for bigger reasons.

"I want the Matildas to have a Cathy Freeman moment," Kerr insisted before inspiring Australia to end England's 30-game unbeaten run in April - with history now capable of repeating itself in Sydney this week.

Freeman famously won gold in the 400m at the 2000 Olympics in the same city with the weight of a nation on her shoulders. The moment would go on to unite a country and do more for participation than politicians could ever promise.

"Anyone around my age these days knows Cathy Freeman, remembers where they were, remembers when she won that race," Kerr said. "I believe the Matildas can have that moment and then go on from there."

Australia will walk out in front of more than 70,000 fans in their semi-final showdown, having already won the hearts and minds of millions of fans across the country during their run to the last four.

Kerr hopes it will be the start for the game to get the financial respect it deserves.

"You see the funding AFL, rugby, all those sports get before women's football," she added. "I think it's about getting the money into football to allow girls to play, to allow girls to have the opportunities to get to where they want to be."

Kerr speaks honestly about the problems facing women's soccer in Australia, but it's a situation shared around the world.

The Matildas' inspiring performance on the global stage could help change the status of the game in more places than just Australia and New Zealand.

Kerr added: "That's the legacy we want to leave. That we inspire the nation, move the nation to believe in women's football and believe in the Matildas."

It is a sentiment echoed by Football Australia's chief executive James Johnson, who's given Kerr the freedom to express herself in ways many boardroom bosses would not.

"Sam's a fantastic person both on and off the pitch, she pushes a lot of good social issues and she's very well respected in Australia," he told Sky Sports.

"What you see from the Matildas is not just great performances on the pitch but we're going to make some points off it.

"Once it's agreed the player can express themselves on certain issues, especially LGBTQI issues which is on the tip of the Matildas' tongue, they can do their work on the pitch."

'Big game Sam'

Australia's Sam Kerr celebrates after scoring against England
Image: Sam Kerr scored against England in a friendly earlier this year to condemn them to their first defeat under Sarina Wiegman

It's not just off the pitch where Kerr's impact is keenly felt - she also has a penchant for stepping up at the most crucial moments on the field too.

When Chelsea needed wins to take the title on the final day of the last two WSL seasons, Kerr stepped up.

Who scored the winning goal in the FA Cup final? And who scored the only goal to inflict England's first defeat under Sarina Wiegman? You guessed it - Kerr.

It's not just on the grass where her impact is made.

Drawing 0-0 at home to an unfancied Czech Republic in February, Kerr's brutally honest half-time team talk gave her side the rocket it needed.

Sam Kerr celebrates after scoring for Chelsea in Women's FA Cup final
Image: Kerr scored for Chelsea in the Women's FA Cup final - one of the many big goals she has provided since being at the club

Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson remembers Kerr telling her fellow team-mates: "What if this was the opening game of the World Cup with 80,000 in the stands?"

"Don't freak out, don't stress out. Believe in the plan, believe in the process, believe in team-mates."

The Matildas went on to win the game 4-0.

"She can be the passion and the heart of the team when needs be and drive people, demand and be that voice," admits Gustavsson.

She could yet prove that with a comeback performance - from the off or from the bench - against the Lionesses.

WSL legacy already in place

While Kerr's focus is on Australia, she has come into the tournament knowing she has already intrinsically impacted the game in England.

When she signed for Chelsea at the end of 2019, few top-tier global stars were in the Women's Super League.

Her big-money contract was viewed as a risk by some at a time when Chelsea were attempting to wrestle back the title from Arsenal.

Millie Bright and Sam Kerr celebrate with the WSL trophy
Image: helped Chelsea to a fourth successive WSL title in May

Since then, Chelsea have won four consecutive WSL titles, played in a Champions League final and secured their status as the best English team of the professional era.

"I wouldn't trade her for any other player in the world," Chelsea coach Emma Hayes proclaimed after Kerr scored twice on the final day of the season to help the team lift the WSL title in May.

In the last three seasons in the WSL, Kerr tops the charts in a number of attacking metrics.

Sam Kerr

She has scored the most goals (53) - none of which have been penalties - with the highest number of shots (233), shots on target (110) and big chances scored (35).

Interestingly, she has also won the highest number of aerial duels (132) as well as notching up 16 assists - the eighth highest in the WSL over the last three seasons.

There is a difference in Kerr's heatmaps for the last few years too.

In the 2020/21 season, Kerr played far more over on the left-hand side of the pitch, rarely venturing over to the right. She also has a large concentration of play across the 18-yard box.

The following year, she actually spent more time over to the right-hand side of the pitch, with a far smaller area of activity inside the box, keeping herself very central.

But her largest distribution of playing throughout the penalty area came in the 2022/23 season, with her width expanding across much of the box. she also spent little time on either side - although the left just edges it - instead keeping far more central when outside of the box.

She has also changed the market for successful strikers in England, as well as Australian players in the WSL.

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Sam Kerr says the feeling of winning the WSL title gets better every year after she picked up her fourth consecutive title with Chelsea

Forwards in the league now get paid more than everyone else. Vivianne Miedema, Alessia Russo and Bunny Shaw's new contracts were all shaped by the impact Kerr's goals and big-game moments have had on a single club.

Twelve of Kerr's team-mates in Australia's World Cup squad also played in WSL last season - just another example of the 'Kerr effect' on whoever she plays with.

It is an impact that Kerr hopes will go beyond the pitch this summer. With all she's achieved so far, who is to say we will not be talking about a 'Kerr moment' inspiring a generation in 20 years' time?

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