She may be a global superstar and one of the most prolific strikers in history, but even Sam Kerr admitted to being “nervous and a bit rusty” when she raced through on goal 90 seconds into her Chelsea debut.
However, if her wild miss over the top of the bar was initially something of an anti-climax for the excited fans at Kingsmeadow, her overall performance most certainly was not.
The Australia striker, who signed for Chelsea in November but had to wait until January to make her Women’s Super League bow, was thrust straight into the Blues’ starting side little more than a week after landing in Europe, as an outbreak of flu limited manager Emma Hayes’ selection options up front.
Expectations among supporters and the media were sky high, with Kerr holding the all-time goalscoring records in both the American and Australian leagues, aged just 26, and having shone with five goals at the 2019 World Cup in France.
Despite spurning good opportunities to add to her 148 career league goals in her first competitive game for more than two months, Kerr’s energy, intelligent movement and all-round play showed what a world-class addition she will be to England’s top flight.
Her deft backheel fed strike partner Beth England for Chelsea’s equaliser, after her pace and desire to get to the ball first in a chase with Grace Moloney led to the Reading keeper being sent off.
If that bruising clattering from Moloney was a “welcome to England” moment, Kerr’s own “hello, I’m here” message was to come with that classy contribution for England’s goal.
“I’m obviously still finding my feet in England but I enjoyed it,” Kerr told BBC Sport. “It was awesome working with Beth. It’s nice playing with her. I feel like we’ve connected really quickly. She’s a quality player.
“[An assist] is good but I missed a few chances there so I have to sharpen up on my shooting. I was actually nervous because it [the game’s early chance] was my first one-on-one in a few months.
“I’d been a bit rusty coming back from a break but I always want to start. I haven’t been playing much, so I was nervous. But that’ll come. I’ll get the jitters out the way, and it’s only my first game so I can go from here.”
Kerr enjoying ‘freezing’ England
Having recently been placed first in the Guardian’s poll of the world’s top 100 women’s players for 2019, Kerr’s signature was much sought after across the globe.
So why did she choose the WSL and Chelsea?
“I’ve always been attracted to English football and the vibe that’s here and, speaking to Emma [Hayes], she seemed like the best fit for me, and doing a little bit of research about the girls and the team, it just seemed right,” she explained.
“It’s freezing here to be honest but I’m enjoying it. The girls are quality and they’ve really welcomed me so I’ve settled in as best as I can in nine days.
“They’ve been learning from me and I’ve been learning from them. I knew nobody [in the team] so I was the new kid at school.
“This is one of the best teams in England for sure and hopefully we can be one of the best teams in Europe going forward.”
Kerr has joined the English women’s club with the highest average home attendance this season and a large crowd of delighted supporters waited long after full-time to meet their new favourite player.
She did not disappoint them, staying behind to sign countless autographs and pose for photographs, with one fan even bringing along an inflatable kangaroo to show her.
On the pitch, Chelsea manager Hayes said after Sunday’s 3-1 win over Reading that she “could not ask any more” of Kerr on her debut.
“I’m happy for her,” said Hayes. “There’s a lot of expectation on her. It was a lot, I think, to start her today. We had an outbreak of flu, so I had no choice.
“I just asked her to push herself into the team and do a job for the team and that’s what she did today. She fits in so well to the team.
“What a backheel. It was a beautiful backheel for Beth. It’s exciting to see the pair of them together.
“She’s humble, hard-working, honest, thoughtful and an unbelievable team player.
“You can have top players, but to have a top player who is a top person – happy days.”
Kerr’s arrival means the Blues have further attacking options in a squad containing a number of international forwards, including Switzerland’s Ramona Bachmann and England’s Fran Kirby, as well as Sunday’s goalscorers – England, Norway’s Guro Reiten and Scotland’s Erin Cuthbert.
But asked about the added competition for places, Hayes replied: “It’s their problem, it’s my privilege.
“Lucky me. I’ve got a glut of beautiful people to pick from.”
Chelsea are next in action when they host Bristol City next Sunday in the WSL, before a Continental League Cup quarter-final tie at home to Aston Villa on Wednesday, 15 January.
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