With unexpected circumstances keeping her from playing the majority of the 2019/20 season, it has been nothing but joyous to see Chelsea and England forward Fran Kirby back on the pitch.
In late 2019, Kirby was diagnosed with pericarditis, an inflammation of the tissue surrounding the heart. After suffering from a debilitating illness, some may have understandably taken the option to ease themselves back into the swing of things. Yet in true champion fashion, this has not been the case for Fran Kirby. With an ostensible hunger, Kirby has returned this season looking, arguably, fitter and stronger than ever, conveying one very clear message; this is where I want to be.
Fran Kirby possesses a raw footballing talent; a gift that no amount of injuries or illnesses can deny. Yet, wise to the fact that talent can only take you so far, Kirby is not one to rest on her laurels. She puts in the work tenfold to ensure that her spot in a starting eleven is earned and not simply given. Kirby’s fine dribbling agility and intelligent combination play quite aptly earned her the nickname “Mini Messi” back in 2015. Kirby, then playing for Reading, became the first second-division player to receive a senior international call-up to represent Mark Sampson’s Lionesses in the 2015 World Cup.
When accounting Kirby’s game, it is easy to understand how she came to acquire such a commendation. Perhaps most effective in the number ten role, with the freedom to roam, Kirby expertly bridges the midfield with the forward line. Kirby’s vision paired with her stellar passing ability, notably with through balls, often shifts things into gear. Her complete skill on the ball lurches her teammates onward, with those around her well in the know that when the ball is at Kirby’s feet, you best get moving.
Sitting behind out-and-out forwards, she teases defenders into compact positions, allowing her teammates to find space beyond a now staggered defensive line. Drawing the opposition in tight is a game Kirby likes to play. A close marker, or two, is not a problem. Here, where others may, quite literally, run into trouble, is where Kirby finds her stride. In one foul swoop she is able to decoy even the most proficient of defenders whilst simultaneously springing an attack. Back to the goal, collect the pass, take a touch on the half turn, send the ball forward; a staple Kirby move.
However, this is not to say she cannot operate quite comfortably in other areas. Kirby is flexible with her positioning and does not lose any of that darting creative flair or dictation of play when frequenting other parts of the pitch. Playing on the wing she fires in crosses with a venom; as a centre forward, she can pot goals just as easily as she assists with them. Yet, whichever job she is ultimately tasked with, there is no doubt that it will be undertaken with perfection firmly in her sights.
With an apparent desire to better herself in every game, Kirby certainly does not give herself an easy ride. But it is this exuding passion for improvement that has led her to the very top. A road that has not been the plainest of sailing by any means.
Throughout her career, Kirby has had to overcome her fair share of obstacles. As well as professional injuries, personal anguishes have taken their toll. At a young age Kirby sadly suffered a bereavement that almost stopped her footballing career before it had even begun. Then after her diagnosis of pericarditis last year, Kirby admitted, that once again, she was close to hanging up her boots for good. Quite honestly, on both occasions, it would have been difficult to find a single person who would have blamed her.
Of her own volition, Kirby has always been honest about the hand she has been dealt, openly discussing the effect these events have had on both her physical and mental health. Frank with her approach, Kirby takes the rough with the smooth, never sugar coating her recoveries or her hardships. Her candidness in tackling stigmas and breaking silences, without her possibly realising, continues to make a true impact further afield. Many express a profound gratitude for Kirby’s sincerity; a gentle arm around the shoulder when facing difficulties of your own.
With all this in mind, it is clear that Kirby has an awful lot to give, on both sides of the touchlines. And so, it stands to reason that “Super Fran” may not quite do her justice.
Fran Kirby: the epitome of exceptional.