Australian captain Sam Kerr has spent her brief time at the Women’s World Cup in France so far dealing in iconic moments.
Having scored her country’s first goal of the tournament in their disappointing 2-1 opening-game loss to Italy, she delivered a robust response to their critics in a televised post-match interview after their subsequent comeback victory against Brazil, calling on the “haters” to “suck on that one”.
Just days later this somewhat controversial comment faded into relative obscurity as the 25-year-old became just the 10th footballer to score four goals in a World Cup match – guiding the Matildas past Jamaica and into a last-16 match with Norway.
It’s an achievement men’s global icons Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Pele and Diego Maradona don’t have beside their names and a statement of intent for a player who is now breathing down the neck of Brazil legend Marta for the accolade of best female player on the planet.
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To diehard football fans Kerr’s heroics have not come as a major surprise.
She has been smashing records on the international and domestic fronts in recent years – earning a Ballon d’Or nomination, third place in the BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year 2019 and a spot on the cover of the Australian edition of popular video game Fifa – but the striker’s feats on the biggest stage, and her trademark backflip celebration, have catapulted her name into households across the globe.
Who is she?
While it’s natural to assume Kerr has been playing the round ball game since a tender age, there was a time when she did not envisage picking it up at all.
Born in the Aussie Rules-mad city of Perth in Western Australia, Kerr spent her formative years with the ‘Sherrin’ in hand – inspired by her father Roger and brother Daniel, who both played at the highest level.
With a lack of options for girls Kerr never looked out of place in the boys’ competition – starring in many a game until the age of 12 when she was no longer allowed to play beside them for safety reasons.
There is now a viable semi-professional women’s league, AFLW, for young girls to aspire to, but it wasn’t the case back in 2005 – “the rug was ripped out underneath me,” she reflected prior to the World Cup – so she took her talents to football.
After a successful stint with her local club, she came to the attention of W-League side Perth Glory in 2008 and made her debut during the 2009 season. She went on to win the Players’ Player and Goal of the Year awards and was rewarded with selection in the national side – debuting off the bench against Italy at the age of 15 before making the first of three appearances at a World Cup finals aged 17.
A decade later Kerr has already etched her name into the history books and is not going away anytime soon.
Record breaker, and inspiration
The nature of Australia’s football calendar means Kerr is able to ply her trade in two domestic leagues in separate hemispheres. The W-League is played alongside the men’s A-League in the Australian summer months to give football more exposure in one of the most highly saturated sporting markets in the world.
As a result, Kerr plays with Perth Glory from October-April and Chicago Red Stars, in the United States’ National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) from April-September.
Despite the high workload she has been utterly dominant and is the all-time leading goal-scorer in W-League with 70 goals and the NWSL with 61 – as well as claiming the last two golden boots in both leagues.
With the NWSL currently in recess for the World Cup, Kerr leads the way with six goals from as many games. Since 2017 she has been on a goal-scoring hot streak at all levels, finding the back of the net 23 times in her last 27 appearances for Australia, 39 times from 36 outings in the W-League and 39 times in 48 NWSL games.
In February, new Matildas coach Ante Milicic turned to Kerr in a bid to restore stability following former coach Alen Stajcic’s controversial sacking. Handing her the captaincy armband, he challenged the superstar to “push the team to a new level” in their bid to claim a maiden World Cup in France.
She has done so in the best possible fashion, setting the ultimate example again and again – not least in Tuesday’s tournament-saving win over Jamaica.
“She’s a joke. She just shows up doesn’t she whenever you need a superhero,” defender Steph Catley said after the game.
A star on and off the field
Kerr is more than just a goal-scoring machine. Off the field she has been a vocal activist for equality in women’s sport and was named Young Australian of the Year 2018 for her work.
As an openly gay athlete she is role model to many young women and spoke publicly for the first timeabout her relationship with Chicago and Perth team-mate Nikki Stanton in a recent pre-World Cup campaign with sponsor Nike.
Kerr suffered a career-threatening knee injury in 2014 and credited Stanton for helping her maintain a positive attitude during the lengthy recovery process.
“Nikki helped me a lot through my injury. That may be why I feel so deeply connected to her, because that was probably the worst time in my career,” she said. “At the same time I had one of the most exciting things building up in my life.”
Kerr’s humility is also one of her strongest attributes and no doubt essential to remaining grounded amongst all the fanfare.
After her performance against Jamaica she was asked about the most inspiring moment of the World Cup thus far. She did not mention the four goals, but instead pointed to the emotional scenes after Thailand scored their first ever World Cup goal on Sunday.
“It kind of gave me that extra bit of pride walking out for my country, seeing how much it meant to another country to just score at a World Cup,” she said.
The business end
Unlike Australia’s men’s side, the women entered the World Cup with a genuine chance of taking home the silverware at the business end – but now there’s no second chance.
The Matildas were stunned by Italy in their opening fixture and conceded five goals across three group stage games.
On paper they should beat Norway in the last 16 on Saturday – the Aussies are ranked number six in the world, six spots above their Scandinavian rivals, who are also without the services of BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year Ada Hegerberg, who has boycotted the national side since 2017 in protest at the Norwegian Football Federation’s treatment of the women’s game.
In the absence of one star of the game, the stage is set for Kerr to steal the whole spotlight, perhaps provide another iconic moment, and silence the “haters” yet again.
BBC Sport has launched #ChangeTheGame this summer to showcase female athletes in a way they never have been before. Through more live women’s sport available to watch across the BBC this summer, complemented by our journalism, we are aiming to turn up the volume on women’s sport and alter perceptions.Find out more here.