Fran Kirby shows her maverick brilliance will be key to England’s Euro 2022

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I would always want my former teammate Fran Kirby in my England team. Who does not? It didn’t seem like a possibility in the months leading up to the European Championship due to fatigue issues, but Kirby’s 63 minutes in the opening match win over Austria showed just how important he is to this England team.

It may not have been the 5-0 or 6-0 victory that the 68,871 inside Old Trafford wanted, but it is the perfect platform to build on, especially after all the pressure on the hosts ahead of the European Championship. Tournament football is all about momentum and three points against Austria puts England in good position for their second game with Norway. I’ve had my worries about England goals and this showed at Old Trafford, but when it mattered, Kirby made the difference.

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Kirby is England’s most creative player at No.10 and showed her skills to score Beth Mead’s goal. Few people in women’s football would have been able to identify the pass that allowed Mead to bring down the goalkeeper. Mead did incredibly well controlling the ball and finishing, but it was brilliant of Kirby to find her in a small amount of space.

Kirby is one of a kind and was at the heart of everything England did right while on the pitch. He has the ability to break the lines with his runs and passes, but he also worked hard to win the ball back and put Austria at a disadvantage. Kirby showed his ability off the ball by making a clever run to help create a chance for Lauren Hemp in the first half.

A number 10 is the maverick of the team. They need to be given the ball as much as possible to express themselves and do the things that others can’t. I think Kirby’s teammates need to pass the ball to her quicker because she’s the one who can create magic moments to win games.

Considering Kirby missed months of the season with Chelsea due to fatigue, it was fantastic to see her there. The only thing that can be said about her is that she is very resilient. I thought she might just be an impact player off the bench, but she is proving everyone wrong and she will hopefully be able to play longer as the tournament goes on. When someone returns from injury or illness, the key is to strengthen them, not destroy them. Putting too much pressure on a player before he is ready can be detrimental and Sarina Wiegman has the right idea to get the best out of her playmaker.

All you have to do is look at Kirby’s contribution last season for Chelsea, where she was top scorer with 11 assists despite her long absence. She was also fourth in the league, which is no small feat. She only played 25 games, but she was a creative force and scored 11 goals to go along with her assists.

Beth Mead puts the ball past Manuela Zinsberger to score the only goal of the game at Old Trafford. Photograph: Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Kirby’s focus, when I talked to her this season, has always been about being healthy. As long as she’s fit, she’s a star player anywhere. She’s not going to lose her qualities for a few months, but she needs to rebuild her physical form to maximize what she can offer. In the pre-tournament friendlies she looked strong and she showed it again on Wednesday. She hopefully can build momentum and confidence and recreate the form that she has shown for Chelsea over the years.

Kirby also brings a wealth of tournament experience. She has 58 caps and participated in Euro 2017 and World Cups 2015 and 2019, so she knows what is required of her, which can only help her and her teammates.

England created 10 chances on Wednesday, but only five attempts hit the target. They will have to be more ruthless because they cannot not win all the matches with a single objective. They have shown in recent months the in-depth strength that Wiegman has and the manager will not be afraid to use it to achieve the best results. Nikita Parris and Beth England spent the night on the bench and would go into most sides of this tournament.


England showed they are defensively strong, something Wiegman has ensured since taking over. The back four managed very well with the late pressure from Austria, although there was also a key save from Mary Earps after a shot from Barbara Dunst. To win major tournaments, it is essential to have a solid defensive base, especially when you don’t create too many opportunities. It will give attack-minded players confidence, knowing what is behind them. It should free them up to take more chances and be more progressive in possession.

Victory against Austria will have helped ease the pressure and boost the confidence of the England team, and glimpses of their creative leader doing what he does best will be a much-needed boost ahead of Monday’s crucial game.

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