Sam Kerr is already one of the most recognisable players in world football. Her face adorns billboards, adverts and computer games as she prepares to lead Australia at a home World Cup.
Not only does the Chelsea striker go into the tournament with winning 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. Domestically, 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 won 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.
But Kerr knows the power of performance can do more than bring sporting success, but 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.
Freeman famously won gold in the 400m at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney 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 80,000 fans in a sold-out World Cup opener in Sydney against the Republic of Ireland on July 20 and 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.
An 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’ll 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’
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.
And 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.
Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson remembers Kerr telling her fellow Matildas: “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.
WSL legacy already in place
While Kerr’s focus is on Australia for the foreseeable future, she goes 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.
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 Chelsea lift their fourth consecutive WSL title in May.
In the last three seasons in the WSL, Kerr tops the charts in a number of attacking metrics.
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.
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 provisional 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. And with all she’s achieved so far, who is to say we won’t be talking about a ‘Kerr moment’ inspiring a generation in 20 years’ time?
What is the World Cup schedule?
The group stage will begin on July 20 and run over a two-week period finishing on August 3 and see group winners and runners-up progress to the round of 16, which takes place from August 5 to August 8.
The quarter-finals, which will be held in Wellington, Auckland, Brisbane and Sydney, are scheduled for August 11 and 12.
The first semi-final will then be played on August 15 in Auckland, with the other semi-final taking place on August 16 at the Accor Stadium in Sydney, which will then host the final on August 20.
A third-place play-off will be played the day before the final on August 19 in Brisbane.