WWith every goal scored, trophy lifted and a piece of history recorded, Sam Kerr continues to raise himself into a pantheon reserved for a select few in Australian sport. After the Matildas captain helped lift Chelsea to a third consecutive Women’s Super League title on Sunday with a stunning brace, her status as one of her country’s most celebrated athletes has been rubber-stamped.
Kerr dragged her side back onto level terms against Manchester United with a fiercely struck volley moments into the second half, before she repeated the feat 20 minutes later with a floated effort, having controlled the ball on her chest and swiveled to face goal in one effortless movement.
Effectively killing the game off at 4-2, the second was a miraculous goal. By all rights, the combination of the occasion, the high stakes and the degree of difficulty should have consigned it to the realm of fiction. Yet for Kerr, who spoke afterwards about how she visualizes moments like these, this is her reality.
Lured to by the promise of trophies, she has now lifted three WSL titles, two League Cups, a Community Shield and an FA Cup with Chelsea. In just over two years in west London, she has won back-to-back WSL golden boots and last week was named alongside Liverpool’s Mo Salah as one of the Football Writers Association’s footballers of the year. In January, Fifa recognized her as the second-best women’s player in the world behind only Spain’s Alexia Putellas. At just 28 years old, she has won domestic titles or golden boots – or both – in England, the United States and Australia.
Internationally, she captains and has played over 100 games for the Matildas. In January, she surpassed Tim Cahill as Australian football’s most prolific international goalscorer at the Asian Cup, even if the campaign ultimately ended in failure.
Slowly but surely, Kerr has become the alpha and omega for her nation. It took just over seven years for her to reach double figures after scoring her first international goal at 16, but in the four and a half years since, she has scored nearly 50. Upon being named as the coach who will lead the Matildas into a home World Cup in 2023, one of Tony Gustavsson’s first moves was to spend hours watching and analyzing his new talisman’s goals in an attempt to learn how she ticked.
Inevitably, such an approach carries its own risks. The Chelsea squad with whom Kerr dominates, as well as her role within that, differs from the national side. It’s not simply a matter of plug in and play. Much like the Socceroos’ experience with Cahill, the Matildas have faced questions over a perceived over-reliance on Kerr to score and the potentially limiting factors in the approach and composition that flows from this. They’re important conversations to have and scrutiny is needed – but they’re only made possible because of her ability.
Without question, Kerr is one of her nation’s biggest sporting stars. Given the context of her achievements, arguments can be made that she may in fact be the biggest and, even if not, an even stronger one can be made that in the wake of Ash Barty’s surprise retirement she is her homeland’s most notable active female athlete . Every accomplishment and piece of recognition she receives only adds to this.
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So-called “code wars” are one of the most tire aspects of Australian sport, but observing that Kerr is the type of athlete other sports could only dream of having isn’t so much a salvo in this ideological conflict so much as an observation of objective fact. It’s not just because she’s the face of a national team or is one of the best in the world at what she does – Australian sport is blessed to have a number of athletes that fit that category – it’s that she does all this while signed to one of global sport’s biggest brands in Chelsea, as one of the faces of another in Nike, and while playing the most-watched sport on the planet.
In a vacuum, Kerr is just one of 11 players on the park at any one time, but from a wider perspective, her profile has transcended football in the eyes of an Australian public increasingly apathetic towards the world game. Even if you don’t know football, you know of Kerr.
A-League Women sides with newly opened borders find themselves at a loss as to which marquee players they could target to move the dial. Who could cut it in a world where suburban parks around the country only a few years ago had Kerr scoring a hat-trick almost every week?
The answer is likely nobody. Because Australia has never had an athlete like Sam Kerr.