Keira Walsh

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Keira Walsh
Keira Walsh 20181009 01 cropped.jpg
Walsh with England in 2018
Personal information
Full name Keira Fae Walsh[1]
Date of birth (1997-04-08) 8 April 1997 (age 25)
Place of birth Rochdale, England[2]
Height 5 ft 6 in (1.67 m)[1]
Position(s) Midfielder
Club information
Current team
Barcelona
Number 21
Youth career
2008–2014 Blackburn Rovers
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
2014 Blackburn Rovers 9 (3)
2014–2022 Manchester City 118 (6)
2022– Barcelona 3 (0)
National team
2010–2012 England U15 4 (0)
2013 England U17 9 (2)
2014–2016 England U19 9 (0)
2016 England U20 0 (0)
2017 England U23 4 (0)
2017– England 50 (0)
2021 Great Britain 3 (0)
Honours
Women's football
Representing  England
UEFA Women's Championship
Winner 2022 England
*Club domestic league appearances and goals, correct as of 00:00, 1 October 2022 (UTC)
‡ National team caps and goals, correct as of 23:45, 6 September 2022 (UTC)

Keira Fae Walsh (born 8 April 1997) is an English professional footballer who plays as a midfielder for Barcelona and England. She is considered both a playmaker and a defensive midfielder.[3][4][5][6] She has previously played for Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City, and Great Britain at the Olympics. She was part of the team that won the UEFA Women's Euro 2022, and was named player of the match in the final.

Walsh became a first-team regular at Manchester City as a teenager during their 2014 campaign, playing a key role in helping the team secure their first Continental Cup.[7][8] She stayed with the side for eight seasons, briefly captaining them in 2021, and in March 2022 became the second player to reach 200 appearances for them; when she left to join Barcelona later that year, she jointly held City's record for number of appearances and set a world-record fee for a female footballer.

She represented England for their age-group teams from the age of twelve before making her senior debut in 2017 and starting as captain in a match a year later. She has been described as one of the best midfielders in the world[9][6][10][11][12] and nicknamed "WonderWalsh".[13][14]

Early years[edit]

Keira Fae Walsh was born on 8 April 1997[1] in Rochdale to Peter and Tracy Walsh, and was raised by the Pennines in Syke, a rural suburb of the town.[15][16] Here she practised football with her father on the field across from their house from about the age of five.[15][17] She played for local side Pearson Juniors under-7 boys', then Samba Stars boys'[18] – both coached by the father of her primary school best friend, who initially took her along[16] – until she turned eleven.[19]

Walsh attended Haslingden High School and Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammar School Sixth Form, both in Rossendale;[20][21] after the Lionesses won the 2022 Euro, local bus company Rosso, which runs between Rochdale and Rossendale, named a bus after Walsh.[22] Haslingden High School had girls' football teams in the first few year groups, which Walsh played for, reaching a national final.[16] She joined Manchester City, the team she and her family support, in July 2014,[23] when she was seventeen; City sent her to St Bede's College in Manchester to finish her A-Levels while she trained and played with them.[17]

Though a dedicated Manchester City fan, having had pet fish named after Shaun Goater and Nicolas Anelka, Walsh was inspired as a child by Spanish football,[6] in part due to having family in Spain and often playing in the country when visiting them.[24] In a period of Walsh's youth when City were less successful, her father would encourage her to watch Barcelona as guidance instead.[24] She also briefly supported Arsenal, due to being a fan of Cesc Fàbregas, until she saw David Silva,[6] who became her favourite player,[25] with City.[6]

In 2008, Walsh was named Rochdale Sports Person of the Year. She was ranked number 1 in Greater Manchester in under-13 badminton,[18][26] a sport she had taken up aged nine.[27]

Club career[edit]

Blackburn Rovers[edit]

Youth, 2008–14[edit]

Seeking a way to continue playing football when she could no longer play with boys,[16] Walsh attended a Football Association (FA) Tesco Skills Centre based at Kingsway Park High School at the age of eleven.[19] She then went to trials at the Blackburn Rovers Girls' Centre of Excellence, put forward by her childhood coach[16] and encouraged by good performances at the Skills Centre, and joined them in 2008.[19] She played for Blackburn Rovers in their age-group teams from under-12 through under-17.[18][28] Though she began playing as a right-footed left-back, and then a centre-half,[16] she moved to the central midfield at Blackburn[6][29] when a new coach came in for the under-14 team and suggested she try the position.[16]

With the Blackburn youth teams, and despite playing in defense and midfield, Walsh was a prolific goalscorer,[19] making four goals in six games in her first year at the club.[30] She played for the under-17 team in the 2013 FA Girls' Youth Cup final against Arsenal, narrowly missing an opening goal, with Blackburn eventually losing the match.[31] In their 2014 FA Youth Cup quarter-final against Sunderland, Walsh scored a hat-trick in thirteen minutes.[28][32]

While at Blackburn Rovers Girls' Centre of Excellence, Walsh played for Lancashire in the 2013 English Schools' Football Association County Cup; eleven members of this Lancashire squad came from Blackburn Rovers.[33]

Senior, 2014[edit]

In February 2014, when she was sixteen, Walsh signed for Blackburn Rovers' first team[34][35] until the end of the season,[36] debuting as a half time substitute four days later.[37] The club had suffered a poor start to the league that season, and the addition of Walsh was said to be key to maintaining their place in it.[38] Still involved with the under-17 side,[36] Walsh played in nine FA Women's Northern Premier League matches for the first team, scoring three goals, including the team's goal of the season – a "stunning" second goal against Derby County in March[34][39] that brought Blackburn up from relegation.[40] She also played for the team in the final of the Lancashire Women's Challenge Cup, said to be the best player in the match despite the team losing,[41] and in the fourth round of the FA Women's Cup.[36] She left both youth and senior Blackburn Rovers sides in 2014, picking up a Contribution Award for six seasons with them.[34]

Manchester City, 2014–22[edit]

2014[edit]

Walsh began looking to join a Women's Super League (WSL) team shortly after she turned seventeen when she was still playing with the under-17 Blackburn Rovers side.[42][28] She had been offered a place on Everton's development squad without trialling and was planning to join, despite Manchester City, the club she supports, preparing to enter the WSL and holding trials. Walsh's mother encouraged her to attend the trials for the City development squad in July 2014; before the session was complete, first team coach Nick Cushing, who had gone as an observer, asked to sign her to the main squad as their playmaking midfielder.[42][17] Cushing would later say that Walsh has "the best football brain" of any player he has coached, adding that "some players are almost touched by God";[6] in response, Walsh deflected praise, saying that Cushing's coaching style benefits technical and tactical players.[29]

Ten days after the City trials,[42] in July 2014, Walsh made her senior debut for Manchester City as a substitute in a 1–0 win over Notts County.[43] Too young for a professional contract,[17] she officially trained with the development squad, but by the end of the 2014 season regularly had a starting position in the first team. She was also important within the City side that won the 2014 Continental Cup,[43] starting in the final. Having not expected to play, she had initially told her parents not to travel for the game. She performed particularly well in it, "leaving the footballing world intrigued" by the unknown talent.[17]

2015[edit]

In June 2015, Walsh signed her first senior contract with the club,[43] though did not play between March and August this year due to an ankle injury. Manchester City added her to their 2015 Continental Cup squad when she recovered, but the FA "might have" lost the registration documents for the change, causing City to be briefly suspended for fielding an unregistered player before the matter was resolved.[44] The team's quarter-final against Arsenal, which City lost, had been postponed due to the investigation.[45] City still came second in the league in 2015, which also allowed them to compete in the Champions League the following year.[46] Cushing made Walsh a vice-captain.[42]

2016[edit]

The team were unbeaten in their 2016 league campaign;[47] Walsh was injured again at the start of the season but worked her way back onto the squad and,[48] in September, was described as their "unsung hero" by 90min.[49] On 9 November 2016, Walsh scored her first goal for City,[50] a long-range strike from outside the area, in a 1–0 victory against Brøndby IF in the first leg of the last-16 tie in their debut Champions League.[47][51] Two days later, she extended her contract with City through 2020.[48] For the 2015–16 season, Walsh was nominated for the PFA Women's Young Player of the Year award;[52][53] she would see further nominations for this award every year through the 2018–19 season.[54][55][56]

2017–18[edit]

Walsh with Manchester City in 2017

With Manchester City, Walsh won all three women's domestic titles over 2016–17.[57][58] For the 2017 FA Cup final, in which City defeated Birmingham 4–1, she was named player of the match, saying only that "it was a real team effort" and that it was special to win a trophy at Wembley.[57] The team went out of the Women's FA Cup in the semi-finals in 2018,[59][60] but reclaimed the FA Cup in 2019, defeating West Ham in the final 3–0, with Walsh scoring the opening goal.[59]

2019–20[edit]

With doubts about her career following criticism at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup, Walsh did not want to play football in England, thinking she was not what the domestic fans wanted to see in a holding midfielder.[14] Prior to the 2019–20 season, she handed in a transfer request amid interest from Lyon and Atlético Madrid.[61] On 29 July, she withdrew her transfer request;[62] Cushing had convinced her to stay by encouraging her[14] and joking that he would dress like Pep Guardiola to be more like him.[63] Cushing said that Walsh was integral to City's system and it was imperative the club retain her, while adapting to other transfers.[63] He re-emphasised Walsh's importance to the side after she scored a goal from distance then created the opportunity for a second in an October 2019 match that saw them defeat Birmingham 3–0.[64]

During a Manchester derby in the League Cup on 20 October 2019, Walsh was given a straight red card for a tackle on Manchester United's Kirsty Hanson. City lost 0–2,[65] with Walsh later reflecting that her attack came from being a fan of her team and frustrated that their rivals were winning, and that she had since come to practice more control over her support than she displayed in the match.[17] She signed a new three-year contract on 7 February 2020.[66]

2020–21[edit]

Walsh started her 2020–21 preseason with City by scoring a goal in a 6–0 win[67] before contesting, but losing, the Women's FA Community Shield in its first edition since 2008. Of the Community Shield, Walsh felt it was good to have more opportunities to play at Wembley.[68]

In November 2020, Walsh scored the third goal for City in an 8–1 win over Bristol.[69] At the end of 2020, Walsh was ranked 62 on The Guardian's list of the 100 best female footballers in the world.[70] In March 2021, Walsh scored the sole goal on captain Steph Houghton's 200th cap, taking City to a ninth consecutive WSL victory;[71] later in March, Houghton picked up an injury that kept her out for over a month, and Walsh took up the armband as City captain.[72][73]

2021–22[edit]

With Walsh one of several injured players out at the start of the 2021–22 season, Manchester City began poorly. Walsh returned to playing in October 2021 and,[74] in November, scored a powerful strike against Leicester from the edge of the box, which was shortlisted for the WSL goal of the month.[75] In March 2022, Walsh made her 200th appearance for the club, becoming the second player, after Houghton, to reach a double century.[76]

After playing two Champions League qualification matches for City in August 2022, as part of the 2022–23 pre-season,[77][78] Walsh left the club in September after eight years; eight major trophies; and 211 appearances,[79] the joint-record number of appearances for the club (with Houghton) at the time.[80] In a post on Instagram, Walsh wrote: "Even though I will no longer play in the shirt, City is in my blood and always will be."[81]

Barcelona[edit]

Transfer[edit]

With one year left on her City contract, Walsh again showed interest in leaving the club following the 2021–22 season, with interest from "several top European clubs"[82] including Chelsea and Barcelona.[83] Over the summer of 2022, several key members of City's women's squad left either through free transfer or retirement; Georgia Stanway suggested that for players who had been with the team many years it was starting to stagnate.[84] Though women's football rarely drew transfer fees, both Chelsea and Barcelona made Manchester City large offers for Walsh.[82][83] Walsh wanted to join Barcelona, and the club felt the need to find a replacement for their injured star midfielder Alexia Putellas;[85][86] they reportedly made four offers.[87]

The last of Barcelona's offers, around £400,000 (up to 470,000 including bonuses),[88] a world-record fee, was accepted shortly before the transfer deadline on 7 September 2022.[89][79] This was considerably higher than the previous women's transfer record, set when Pernille Harder transferred for £250,000 in 2020,[90] and Barcelona's previous record signing of a female player, set when they purchased Mapi León for €50,000 in 2017.[91] Walsh signed to Barcelona for three years,[92] joining England teammate Lucy Bronze, who also moved from City to Barcelona in 2022.[89][79]

International career[edit]

Youth[edit]

In November 2009, Walsh, aged twelve, received her first call-up to train for the England under-15 girls, making her the youngest person on the squad.[18][23] In March 2010, she played in her first two matches for England,[93][94] and a year later she was in the squad again.[95] Though she would go on to feature in the England squads for all youth age groups, she did not get a chance to thrive in them, only participating in one major competition. She later reflected that the lack of youth experience may have contributed to her being unprepared for the criticism players receive at international tournaments when she joined the senior squad.[29]

Moving into the under-17 women's squad as its vice-captain,[19] Walsh was considered a key player in the 2013 season.[96] During the July 2013 women's Nordic Tournament, in which England finished seventh, she scored two goals: one to draw level in the seventy-fifth minute after an early Norway lead in the groups, and one to take England 1–0 up in the first minute against Iceland in the play-offs.[97] In November 2013, she was named as a forward in the squad for the 2014 UEFA Women's Under-17 Championship (held in December 2013),[98][99] helping England through to the knockout stages and a fourth-place finish in the competition.[19][100]

Walsh was then selected to the under-19 England squad while still playing at under-17 club level.[28] Called to training with the second team in January 2014,[101] she made a competitive appearance for the first team a week later.[102] In the youth squads, Walsh was considered the class clown to Leah Williamson's serious captain.[103] After under-17, Walsh was not always brought in for training camps and, when she was sixteen and in the under-19 outfit, was told by coach Mo Marley that she needed to work harder to be considered for progression. Walsh has said missing out on selections at this age and Marley's warning, which she felt was tough love and indicative of Marley believing in her, "was a massive career defining moment". Realising she did not want to lose out on football, Walsh began to apply herself.[17]

She served as under-19 captain for some of their appearances at the March 2015 La Manga Tournament in Spain,[104][105] and wore the armband again after returning from injury for a 2016 U19 Euro preparation match in November 2015.[106][44][107] She then picked up another ankle injury while on international duty with the under-19 side in La Manga in March 2016.[108][109] Walsh was named in the squad for an under-20 tournament in September 2016, but had to withdraw.[110] With the under-23 squad, Walsh played in La Manga[111] and won the Nordic Tournament in 2017.[112][113]

Senior[edit]

England[edit]

Walsh (left) and Tobin Heath in a England v United States match in 2019

In November 2017, Walsh was called up to the senior England squad for the first time, along with Williamson, for the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup qualification campaign.[112][114] She received her first cap that month in England's first match against Kazakhstan.[115] During the campaign she was one of two senior Lionesses (with winner Beth Mead) to be nominated for the 2018 England Women's International Young Player of the Year award.[116][117] Walsh, aged 21 and the youngest player on the squad,[118] captained England for the first time during the qualifiers, starting with the armband in England's final match against Kazakhstan in September 2018, in her seventh senior appearance; she was substituted off in the second half, handing the armband to replacement Bronze.[119]

Walsh has represented England in several SheBelieves Cup tournaments. The team came second on Walsh's debut appearance in 2018, losing to United States by an own goal off the keeper.[120] In 2019, Walsh was part of the team that won the competition, providing the long-range assist for the final goal.[121] England then came third in 2020.[122][123]

In May 2019, Walsh was selected as part of England's 2019 Women's World Cup squad;[124] her name was announced by DJ Monki as part of England's social-media facing squad announcement.[125] In the opening games of the World Cup, Walsh did not play to her usual standards, but she continued to be picked to start, with manager Phil Neville having faith in her game and her development; England fans, however, were heavily critical of her continued selection after the early weaker showing. Her performance in the semi-final against United States, which England lost, however, was seen as strong;[29] she provided two long passes that produced Ellen White goals (one was disallowed) and sent a narrowly-saved "thunderbolt" strike at goal from 25 yards herself.[126] Walsh felt that the criticism of her performances was deserved, saying she lacked focus, but said this did not stop it from affecting her.[29] She considered quitting football because of it, working with sports psychologists to rebuild her enjoyment of the game.[127][16] Following the 2019 World Cup, Walsh was shortlisted for the dream team FIFA FIFPRO Women's World 11.[128][129]

By October 2020, Walsh felt that her mentality was starting to thrive again, having still felt struggles in England training months after the World Cup. Preparing for more international fixtures through COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, Walsh aimed to add goals and get more assists in her England game.[130]

In June 2022, Walsh was named to the England squad for the UEFA Women's Euro 2022 in July,[131][132] which they won.[133] As part of the promotions in the run-up to the tournament, an image of Walsh was projected on the facade of the National Gallery.[134] She started every match and played all but five minutes,[133] showing "classic understated dominance" throughout the tournament[135][136] and being key to England reaching the final against Germany. In anticipation of the final it was reported that the outcome of the match could come down to whether Walsh or her contrasting counterpart Lena Oberdorf outperformed the other.[137][138][139][140] In the final, Walsh provided the lauded pass for England's first goal scored by Ella Toone in the sixty-second minute;[133][141][142] The New York Times covered the match by saying it "was Walsh's game".[143] She was named player of the match[144] and was subsequently included in the Team of the Tournament,[145] before being ranked the sixth-best UEFA Women's Player of the Year.[146] Rated by various pundits to be instrumental in England winning the tournament,[147][142] and described in the media as the unsung hero of the tournament and her team,[133][42] Walsh's teammates reacted with surprise when she did not receive a nomination for the Ballon d'Or Féminin in August 2022.[148][149][150]

England's next game after the 2022 Euro saw them qualify for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup in a 2–0 win over Austria;[151] Walsh was named player of the match[152] and included in manager Sarina Wiegman's press conference two days later,[153] where she explained that she was performing well because Wiegman had "given [her] the confidence to go and play [her] game."[154] With her appearance in the final qualification group game, another 10–0 win over Luxembourg, Walsh won her 50th England cap.[155]

Various sports media and personalities have said that Walsh's role in the England squad is one that cannot be matched or replicated by other players.[29][156][137][157][140][158] Football journalist Julien Laurens said on The Gab & Juls Show in September 2022 that Walsh is "the best player in the world, for [him]";[159] he is among the people who wrote that England could not have won the Euro without her.[142]

Great Britain[edit]

Walsh was part of the Great Britain women's football team at the 2020 Summer Olympics held in Tokyo in 2021. She felt that interim coach Hege Riise was a calming influence for the team.[127] Team GB went out in the quarterfinals, losing to the Matildas; Walsh took the first shot in this match, a powerful strike that slammed against the bottom of the post. As the game went to extra time, Walsh again opened striking, with this attempt tipped over the top of the net by a fingertip save.[160]

Style of play[edit]

Manchester City played Walsh as a number 6 holding midfielder[161] and, later, a box-to-box midfielder.[162] Though typically playing in the holding midfielder position,[6] Walsh is "not a traditional holding English midfielder",[29] with her game instead being consistently compared to that of Sergio Busquets.[6][29][163][103] As has been said of Busquets,[164] The Athletic has written that "Walsh is one of those players you might not see if you watch the game—but by watching her you see the game."[133] She is statistically one of the most accurate passers in world football.[163]

Career statistics[edit]

Club[edit]

As of match played 1 October 2022[165][166]
Appearances and goals by club, season and competition
Club Season League Cup[a] League Cup[b] Europe[c] Other[d] Total
Division Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
Blackburn Rovers 2013–14[38][36] WPL Northern 9 3 1 0 0 0 1 0 11 3
Manchester City 2014 WSL 1 7 0 0 0 1 0 8 0
2015 6 0 0 0 3 0 9 0
2016 8 0 0 0 4 0 8 1 20 1
2017 8 0 3 0 0 0 11 0
2017–18 18 0 1 0 6 0 8 0 33 0
2018–19 WSL 19 1 5 1 7 0 2 0 33 2
2019–20 14 2 5 0 5 0 4 0 28 2
2020–21 20 2 4 0 3 0 5 0 1 0 33 2
2021–22 18 1 10 0 6 0 0 0 34 1
2022–23 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 1 2 1
Total 118 6 28 1 35 0 29 2 1 0 211 9
Barcelona 2022–23 Primera División 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 0
Career total 130 9 29 1 35 0 29 2 2 0 225 12
  1. ^ Includes the Women's FA Cup and Copa de la Reina
  2. ^ Includes the Women's Premier League Cup, WSL Cup/Women's League Cup, and Supercopa de España
  3. ^ Includes the UEFA Women's Champions League
  4. ^ Includes the Lancashire Women's Challenge Cup and Women's FA Community Shield

International[edit]

As of match played 6 September 2022[166]
Year England Great Britain
Apps Goals Apps Goals
2017 1 0
2018 8 0
2019 17 0
2020 3 0
2021 5 0 3 0
2022 16 0
Total 50 0 3 0

Honours[edit]

Blackburn Rovers

  • FA Girls' Youth Cup: runner-up 2013[167]
  • Lancashire Women's Challenge Cup: runner-up 2014[41]

Manchester City[166]

England

Individual

Personal life[edit]

Walsh is an advocate for mental health support.[15] She has a West Highland White Terrier called Narla.[170][171] She and Williamson came up through their football careers together, from under-15 to their first senior call-ups, becoming best friends.[103]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]