Thursday 28 April 2022, 09:00

Foord talks 2023 and battling Kerr for the WSL title

  • Caitlin Foord recently made her 100th appearance for Australia

  • Versatile forward is eyeing a fourth FIFA Women’s World Cup, having starred in 2011 at the age of 16

  • Foord speaks about long-time friend Sam Kerr, World Cup memories and expectations for 2023

Caitlin Foord and Sam Kerr go way back. In 2011, they were the “mischievous kids” – 16 and 17 respectively – of Australia’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™ squad, using recovery sessions to enrage the team’s physios with backflips from the pool’s diving board. The pair even headed off together on a European holiday with Kerr’s family after Australia were eliminated in the quarter-finals. It was on that blissful break, in Croatia, that the junior partner-in-crime discovered she had made history as the first recipient of the Women’s World Cup’s FIFA Young Player Award. Foord, though, was having such a good time that she declined the invitation to return and collect her trophy in person. “I didn’t know what it meant at the time,” she recalled with a smile. “I was just happy to continue my holiday! Looking back now, it was a huge achievement and something I’m really proud of. “That 2011 World Cup was a massive eye-opener for me. I didn’t really know what a World Cup was until I was there, playing. I can still remember walking out for that first game against Brazil, with thousands of people there, seeing the likes of Marta and the biggest names in football at the time. I remember just thinking, ‘This is so cool. I want to be a part of this for as long as I can.’”

Caitlin Foord tackles Marta at the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup.

From marking Marta to complementing Kerr

It was the 16-year-old’s performance in that opening match, when she was tasked with subduing the seemingly irrepressible Marta – and succeeded in doing so – that first set tongues wagging. Other stellar showings followed, earning Foord individual awards both at the global finals and later when she was named the Asian Football Confederation’s Young Player of the Year. But the 27-year-old, who recently collected her 100th Matildas cap, has not gone on to make her name as a dogged defensive marker. Though famously versatile, and still able and willing to excel in a range of positions, she heads into next year’s Women’s World Cup having seemingly found a home in attack.

With her club, Arsenal, it’s flanking the likes of Vivianne Miedema and Stina Blackstenius and, with the Matildas, it’s as an effective foil for her old friend. And just as Foord has evolved from those defensive origins, so she and Kerr have gone from being the team’s youthful rascals to becoming its role models, setting and maintaining new, lofty standards for others to follow. No-one, certainly, has been prouder to see Kerr ascend to the role of captain and then, earlier this year, eclipse Tim Cahill’s record to become Australia’s all-time leading goalscorer. “I’ve been team-mates with Sammy in various teams for a long time and, throughout it all, she has never changed as a person,” Foord told FIFA. “She’s a great team-mate to have: she’s a winner, she’s a goalscorer and in training you always want to have her on your team. “[Breaking Cahill’s record] was an amazing achievement and, having seen her grow into the player she has become, I’m not surprised. She deserves everything she’s won and she still has a lot more to give – and plenty more goals for sure. Although she’s broken that record now, I think she’ll ultimately end up smashing it.”

Caitlin Foord of Arsenal and Sam Kerr of Chelsea.

Tight at the top

While hoping that her skipper remains as prolific as ever for the Matildas, Foord has good reason for being a little less enthusiastic about Kerr’s scoring feats at club level. These firm friends are, after all, locked in the tightest of title races, with just a single point separating London rivals Chelsea and Arsenal and only three games remaining of the WSL season. “We like to see each other do well but when it comes to that I am hoping that she misses the goals she normally scores,” Foord admitted. “But although we’re rivals in a way, between us nothing changes.” Regardless of which of them ends up clutching the championship trophy, Foord has been thrilled by her experiences at Arsenal, describing the club as having reignited her passion for the game. “The English league is by far my favourite of those I’ve been involved in,” she said. “That’s also obviously to do with being at a club like Arsenal, surrounded by world-class players. You can only grow every day at training and it’s the style of football, the way I want to play football, having so much quality around you, that just makes it really enjoyable to play. “The style is very different to America too, purely because England is a footballing country and they want to play football. The US is a bit more transitional and the fittest team normally gets there in the end. In England it’s purely down to football, and I love that.”

Great expectations

Of course, while the WSL and its thrilling title race is in focus for now, next year’s global finals are never far from Foord’s thoughts. Yet for all her high expectations for the tournament’s impact and legacy, there remains a sense of incredulity that this long-held dream is now so close to becoming a reality. “It’s still hard to believe the World Cup is actually going to be in Australia,” she said. “I think it’s not going to feel real or hit home until we’re actually there. “It’s surreal to see teams actually starting to qualify for it now, but it’s exciting for me to know that all of these nations are going to experience Australia and get to see what it’s all about. And I know that every single one of them is going to fall in love with it. “I think it’s going to be the best World Cup yet, so it’s definitely going to leave great memories for [those players] and Australia will be a place they’ll want to come back to. On top of that, it’s going to do huge things for Australian football and just continue the growth we’ve seen there. “This will hopefully be my fourth World Cup if I’m picked in the squad, and the development from back in 2011, the hype around the games, the awareness of the players, has been massive. And it’s continuing to grow. The awareness and hype around the 2023 World Cup will be the biggest yet, and I think it’s going to do huge things.” The same was predicted, of course, of a young and mischievous Matilda back in 2011. If next year’s Women’s World Cup can prove as successful in living up to its obvious potential, we should all be in for a tournament to savour.

Australia's forward Caitlin Foord celebrates scoring during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games women's bronze medal football match between Australia and the United States.