“People are calling us the mentality monsters and I believe it,” says Sam Kerr, “because sometimes we’re down and out and this team goes up another gear. Not many teams can do that.”
The Chelsea striker has not been surprised by the level of competition in the Champions League, but she has been surprised by the resilience of a team that was not playing in Europe when she joined them 15 months ago from Chicago Red Stars.
“It hasn’t been easy,” Kerr says as she reflects on Chelsea’s passage to their first Champions League final, against Barcelona on Sunday. “We’ve fought our way back into so many games.
“We’ve had a really hard draw to get to the final. The Atlético game [in the last 16] was the hardest game of that round, we got a red card and our backs were against the wall. This team performs better when we’re under pressure.”
This week there is pressure like never before as Chelsea, crowned Women’s Super League champions for a fourth time on Sunday, ready themselves for the biggest game in their history, but those bumps along the way – the recovery against Atlético, the defeat of Wolfsburg at the fifth and sixth attempts, the bounce back from a first-leg defeat in the semi-final against Bayern – have contributed to huge belief, says Kerr.
“Those types of things help and we’ve got extra motivation going into this final,” says the 27-year-old Australian, who as well as winning a second WSL title on Sunday was also secured the division’s golden boot.
“We’ve never won it [the Champions League], we lost a huge part of our team in Maren [Mjelde, who suffered a knee injury in the League Cup final win over Bristol City]. I really feel like she’s a massive part of where we are now in the Champions League and with the league title. Those are our motivations.”
Huge expectation surrounded Kerr’s arrival in England given her goalscoring exploits in the US and Australia. Other players may have crumbled but she has excelled this season.
“It’s just part of life,” she says. “It took me longer to settle because I play my best football when I’m comfortable. I moved across the world, I had to figure out my apartment, I had things going on off the field, just so much stuff that a lot of people don’t see.
“There’s so much more that goes into those 90 minutes, so it took a little bit longer than I would have liked, but I feel like it’s all panned out now.”
Kerr became the second player, behind Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema, to break the 20-goal barrier (something she did not achieve in the NWSL in the States or Australia’s W-League) in a single WSL season, scoring 21 goals in 22 games.
“It’s not bad, not bad,” she says with a laugh. “It’s my job to score goals. It’s one of those things that’s a good individual achievement but if I can help my team win titles that’s the main thing.”
The back-flipping forward’s playful nature is often on display, as seen with her tongue-out celebration during Chelsea’s title’s celebrations. She followed that up by clutching a beer while doing a pitchside TV interview and then hitting Instagram, where she posted such comments as: “I LOVE YOU GUYS”, “ADOPT ME” and “ERRRMAGOD”.
“Everyone is going to give me crap because I went on Instagram and was commenting funny things,” she says with a wince.
On the contrary – alongside the goals, it is Kerr’s mischievousness and openness that makes her such a fans’ favourite. And, as she explains, she and her teammates were fully justified in celebrating their title win.
“This one’s special, especially with the year we’ve had, it’s been a really, really tough year,” she says. “A lot of us have been away from family for so long, not seeing loved ones. We had Christmas and new year alone, most of us in self isolation.
“We’ve had a lot of highs, but we’ve also had a lot of lows as a team. To come out after a long, long season that feels like it’s been going on for ever, it’s just a reward for all the sacrifices we made.”
Quite clearly, the pandemic had made Chelsea a stronger, tighter team. “It can go one of two ways,” she says. “You can either become closer or you can start not wanting to be around each other, and it’s definitely made us closer.
“We’ve all spent so much time together and leant on each other at different times. Everyone’s so caring and so selfless. It’s just been like a huge bond has been made.
“This team is so unselfish – sometimes we need to be a little bit more selfish, but that just shows who we are as players and what we want.”
Winning the Champions League would be a “dream come true” and another box ticked. But with a possible quadruple on the cards what happens when all the boxes are ticked?
“Just get ready, do it all over again,” says Kerr. “I just always want to win more and be better and with this team there’s no stopping.”