England boss Sarina Wiegman backs Fran Kirby to respond to latest fitness issue

The Chelsea player has a minor knee injury.

Fran Kirby withdrew from the England squad with a minor knee issue
Fran Kirby Fran Kirby withdrew from the England squad with a minor knee issue (Rene Nijhuis/PA)

England boss Sarina Wiegman is “positive” Fran Kirby will bounce back from her latest fitness issue and brushed aside suggestions that the midfielder’s lack of playing time is becoming a concern.

Kirby pulled up in the warm-up before the Lionesses’ 7-2 friendly victory over Austria on Friday night, and on Sunday the Football Association confirmed she had withdrawn from the squad for further assessment on a “minor knee injury.”

It is yet another blow for Kirby, who missed out on the Lionesses’ World Cup campaign last summer after undergoing knee surgery for a long-standing issue, and in October pulled on an England shirt for the first time in over a year.

Asked about Kirby’s injury history and limited starts for her club, Wiegman said: “I don’t think at Chelsea it always has been the reason that she’s injured or not available or not starting.

“There’s also technical, tactical decisions. She was available for us, she would start and she wasn’t available to, which is a disappointment, and moving forward we will see how things develop. I hope she’ll be on the pitch quick, and I’m positive about that.”

Kirby has returned to Chelsea, with what Wiegman says was “some irritation on her knee. It’s a minor injury, but we didn’t want to take any risk, so she’s being assessed at the club and we don’t expect it to be a bad injury.”

The 30-year-old started every game of England’s Euro 2022-winning run, scoring twice and picking up three assists, but in the months prior to selection had suffered from a debilitating fatigue-related illness, later admitting in a book by Millie Farrow, released last year, that she would be forced to rethink her playing career if it happened again.

She told the former Chelsea striker: “I think the competitiveness in me is ‘try one more time’ but I will get to the stage where I think ‘I can’t keep doing this.”

Kirby also sat out a long spell during the 2019-20 season with pericarditis, a heart condition, and during last February’s Conti Cup final re-aggravated a knee issue that had plagued her since she was a pre-teen.

Though she had hoped to avoid surgery, doctors ultimately determined it would be the best way forward to treat what they diagnosed as tripartite patella, in which two bone fragments were attached by tissue, but not joined to her patella bone.

After missing England’s World Cup campaign last summer, which saw them finish runners-up, Kirby made an emotional return to international action in October, coming on as a substitute in the Lionesses’ 1-0 Nations League victory over Belgium.

She has appeared in 14 Women’s Super League matches and five Champions League contests this season, scoring three goals and picking up two assists across all competitions, though her starts have been limited.

It does not help Kirby’s case that competition for playing time at both club and country is increasingly cut-throat.

On Friday, 20-year-old Grace Clinton emphatically introduced herself to the senior squad with a goal on her debut in the first of England’s two international friendlies in Spain, with Italy up next on Tuesday night.

Midfielder Keira Walsh welcomes the challenge, saying: “That’s the hope, isn’t it, that they do come in and take our place? Four of the under-23s trained with us yesterday, and the idea is that they’ll be coming in and taking our shirts off us.

“We don’t want to be predictable in the way we play, we don’t want to be predictable in who’s playing. I think that’s something that’s really special about this England team. We have such good squad depth that anybody can play at any time.”