Fran Kirby, the England forward, has hailed Chelsea manager Emma Hayes for being her “rock” while she fought a debilitating illness which nearly ended her career.
The 27-year-old was diagnosed with pericarditis, an inflammatory heart condition, last November, which caused her to miss the rest of the Women’s Super League season before it was ended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Kirby’s illness became so serious that she was sofa-ridden for weeks and was told by her cardiologist that “if I don’t slow down, I could become chronic and not play again.”
Having made a return to full health and impressed in Chelsea’s 2-0 victory over Manchester City in last week’s Community Shield, Kirby, who initially chose to keep her illness private, paid tribute to Hayes for guiding her through her toughest moments.
“She’s [Emma] been incredible. She’s been my rock, she’s been my go-to,” Kirby said. “She’s been the person who kind of made sure that I was protected from everything. She was the one that was questioning the doctor all the time, ‘Can we try this? Can we try that?’ She was always the one trying to find the answers and trying to help and it just meant so much to me as a player.
“She was always checking in on me, always asking how I was, when I wasn’t feeling great I could just go into her office and just cry in front of her and not feel embarrassed about it. She was there to just look after me and try and help me.”
Chelsea already boasted last year’s WSL player of the year in Beth England and prolific Australian forward Sam Kerr before signing star striker Pernille Harder for a record transfer fee from Wolfsburg last week ahead of their season opener against Manchester United on Sunday. Kirby is relishing the healthy competition for places up front.
“If someone is doing something good or someone is having good [sessions], I’ll always message them saying, ‘You look good, you look really sharp.’ I think that’s kind of the way that we’ve always been as a team,” said Kirby.
“We’re probably such a good squad to have in terms of dealing with disappointment, dealing with happiness. No one is there, shouting or bragging because they’re starting, no one is moping around because they’re not, it’s just a very competitive atmosphere.”