Exclusive: Former England striker Kelly Smith still seeking more silverware with Arsenal Ladies
PUBLISHED: 11:47 10 February 2015
Kelly Smith is targeting more trophies with Arsenal Ladies in the twilight of her glittering career, after announcing her international retirement last week.
Smith, an icon of the women’s game, believes it is now time for a younger group of players to take the national side onto greater heights - starting at this summer’s World Cup in Canada.
The 36-year-old striker, who scored 46 goals in her 117 appearances for England, said: “It was an emotional day when I finally made the decision, but it wasn’t a difficult one in the end.
“After two World Cups and four European Championships, combining my club and country commitment became emotionally and physically too much for me.
“It was a real privilege to play for my country for 20 years. I gave absolutely everything, and look back on my international career with no regrets and with immense pride.
“I’d been pondering this decision for a good couple of months. It was a big disappointment missing the Germany game [at Wembley last November].
“I picked up a knee injury in the opening training session, and that was the tipping point. I had to put my health first, above representing my country.
“I know [England Ladies manager] Mark Sampson is looking to find another natural-born goalscorer.
“Eniola Aluko had a good season with Chelsea last time out, while Jodie Taylor, Karen Carney and Toni Duggan are all trying to make names for themselves.
“I will miss the banter with the girls and the high level of training sessions the most, but I’m looking forward to spending more time with my friends and family. I’ve missed a lot of birthday parties over the years!”
Smith – who lists scoring four goals in the 2007 World Cup and playing for Great Britain in the 2012 Olympics among her career highlights – grew up modelling her game on Ryan Giggs, due to the Welshman’s dribbling prowess and relatively prolific goal return from his preferred wide berth.
The former Manchester United star’s ability to play long into his 30s is something that Smith, who now assists Gunners boss Pedro Martinez Losa, hopes to replicate before fully turning her attentions to coaching.
“When I’m not training, I’m watching games and working towards getting my UEFA B coaching badge, and then it’ll be onto my A licence,” said Smith. “What’s important is that I’m now in control of my body, and I have to manage it accordingly.
“I make the call whether I train or not, and hopefully this will prolong my playing career with Arsenal.
“I would be interested in doing some TV work during the World Cup if the opportunity came about, but at the moment I’m just focused on getting in the best physical shape for the new season.
“The sessions aren’t too tactical at the moment, as many of the players are away on international duty. I know the new manager is looking forward to having all the players together – he’s very demanding of them, and wants to push them to the limit.
“I want to play as many games as possible for Arsenal this season, focusing on the bread and butter of the league and on reaching another FA Cup Final. It’s a competition we hold very close to our hearts, and it would be a dream to retain our trophy.”
Smith played in Arsenal’s first pre-season game against Aston Villa on Sunday, with 17-year-old debutant Chloe Kelly salvaging a 1-1 draw for the Gunners.
The veteran forward, who played for American side Boston Breakers before beginning her third spell with the Gunners in 2012, believes young English players like Kelly are now better placed to reach their full potential on home soil, rather than pursuing a career in the States.
“Nowadays, I feel the English game is really making huge strides,” she added. “There is a far greater focus on the youth set-up, with teams in all age groups, so there are many more pathways for players to get into the England set-up early on in their careers.”