England boss Phil Neville has described Fran Kirby as “world class” and says her qualities must not be forgotten amid the focus on new arrivals in the Women’s Super League.
In the opening weeks of the 2020-21 WSL season there has plenty of talk about high-profile new signings, including a quintet of American World Cup winners.
Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle have joined Manchester City, Tobin Heath and Christen Press are at Manchester United and Alex Morgan has signed for Tottenham, while another eye-catching deal has taken Denmark captain Pernille Harder to Chelsea.
Meanwhile, Chelsea’s Kirby has shone as her comeback continues after being out of action from November onwards last term having been diagnosed with pericarditis.
The 27-year-old will make her first England appearance since the 2019 World Cup if she features in this month’s friendly against Germany in Wiesbaden.
Neville said: “She knows what I think of her. It goes obviously beyond football what she’s gone through and she’s handled it incredibly.
“One thing that’s probably annoyed me in the last two or three weeks is you watch the coverage and go to games and the focus has been on the USA players and Harder. I think what we mustn’t forget is – I think Fran Kirby is one of the best players in the world.
“We shouldn’t forget our own, and I think we have. We sometimes as a country probably look afar and think ‘they’re better than us’. But I think what I’ve seen this season is, yes the Americans coming to the league is brilliant, and I think they’re fantastic players, but not one of those players that’s come to the league has played as well as our Fran Kirby.
“She is world class, a game changer, and can do things that probably most number 10s can’t do.
“I think she is at this moment in time one of the best players, most exciting players in world football.”
As well as Kirby, the 28-player squad announced on Tuesday ahead of the Germany game on October 27 – England’s first fixture since March – also features fit-again City star Lucy Bronze.
There were seven new call-ups in the squad for a training camp last month and four of those are retained – United’s Millie Turner and Ella Toone, City’s Esme Morgan and Chelsea’s Niamh Charles.
Atletico Madrid winger Toni Duggan is among the players missing out, and while stressing competition for places is “fierce”, Neville said: “Toni is still a big part of what we want to do.”
Neville, who is leaving his role next summer with Holland boss Sarina Wiegman replacing him, has spoken about the Lionesses being at the start of a journey, and says the 2019 World Cup, where he guided the team to fourth place, “was exciting but the next three years are going to be better”.
That period includes next summer’s Tokyo Olympics, where there is set to be a British team that he may or may not be in charge of, the England-hosted European Championship in 2022 and the 2023 World Cup.
Also on Tuesday, Neville was asked for his thoughts on there being proportionally fewer black footballers in the women’s game than in the men’s.
And he said: “It’s a difficult one. I think from an FA point of view we are committed to giving opportunities to coaches. There’s some great programmes being run at the moment and I’ve been a part of those. We want to see more black female coaches in women’s football – we want to see more female coaches getting opportunities too.
“What we’ve said as a Lioness group is – I know it’s Black History Month and Black Lives Matter is obviously is in the forefront of everyone’s mind – we’re educating people on our camps. The players are asking for education. They want to make it part of our curriculum, our scheduling.
“In this camp, we are running a workshop on diversity and inclusion and we’re going to make that probably on every camp now going forward, because I think education is the biggest thing we need to do. The players have been fantastic in terms of their desire to want to learn and want to improve and to make things better.”
Enjoy the convenience of having The Sunday Post delivered as a digital ePaper straight to your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Subscribe for only £5.49 a month and enjoy all the benefits of the printed paper as a digital replica.Subscribe