Fran Kirby has praised the England set up for valuing her as a person rather than just a player as she predicted both club and country will benefit from her determination to enjoy the remainder of her career.
Kirby returned to the England squad last week for a training camp at St George’s Park just a year after she was warned she may never play again after a virus left her unable to run let alone play football.
It has been a testing and complicated recovery, but the 27-year-old has been superb for Chelsea in the early stages of new Women’s Super League season, prompting manager Emma Hayes to suggest she is playing the best football of her career.
Kirby knows it is early days but revealed her time outside of the dressing room has given her a new focus, as well as attitude towards the game as she praised manager Phil Neville and other members of England’s backroom staff for helping her through the toughest period of her career.
“In the first few weeks, I was keeping it private,” Kirby explained when asked how she had felt when she was first diagnosed with Pericarditis. “But England were fantastic throughout.
“Phil was always messaging me asking how I was getting on. The doctor was always calling me, Dawn [Scott] the strength and conditioning coach was always seeing how I was getting on and to see if I could do any sessions.
“Both sides [club and country] were amazing. Phil was always checking [on me] and you want your manager to be doing stuff like that because it shows they appreciate you as a person, not just as a player.
“It shows they care about you even when you’re not in the England environment. He’s always messaging you, before and after games, not just when you’re going through a tough time. You appreciate coming into an environment where you know people care about you.”
Kirby has been a key member of the England squad since the 2017 European Championships, but admitted she has not always been the best at accepting criticism. It is something that has changed during her year out of the game.
“It’s something I’ve thought about for a long, long time,” she said. “But for me it was just about getting on to the pitch and just enjoying it. I’ve had a good start with Chelsea in the WSL and I wanted to come here with England, show that side of me as well and that confidence.
“I’m at a stage of my career where I can be more critical of myself. I haven’t always been good at that, I struggled to accept when I hadn’t had the best of games, because I had got an assist or I had got a goal or whatever.
“You kind of walk off the pitch happy regardless [of the overall performance] and now I’m nit-picking, could I have done better, could I have passed there or should I have been more selfish and maybe scored a goal.”
Kirby has her best years ahead of her. No longer one of the youngsters, she is a senior player and by her own admission, needed to grow up a bit. She has tough challenges ahead, not least trying to make the Great Britain squad for next summer’s Olympic Games.
“I train like every day like it is going to be my last one,” she added. “That’s just the attitude I have. I think I’ve matured a lot off the pitch. I’ve come back energised, I’ve come back smiling. I’m enjoying it and I need to keep producing the performances.”