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How the Tillies will attack 2024, and beyond, without Sam Kerr up front


sam kerr 2024 replacement

In an Olympic year, the Matilda’s success was always going to hinge on their captain’s health. Now that she’s out, who’s the next one up? And can Australia still dream of success?

Morocco, early January. Chelsea’s women’s side is at a warm weather training camp during England’s Women’s Super League (WSL) mid-season break, when Matildas star Sam Kerr injures her Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL).

Such is Kerr’s standing in the game, the news reverberates worldwide. Chelsea fans, resigned to finishing the season without their star striker, runner-up in 2023’s Ballon D’or Feminin, were naturally as shattered as fine china dropped from a balcony.

Even more spiritually depleted than the Chelsea faithful are Matildas fans. Having captured the dreams of a nation during their inspirational run to the 2023 Women’s World Cup Semi-Final on home soil, the Matildas entered 2024 with high hopes of securing qualification for the Paris Olympics and bettering their fourth-place finish at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Kerr’s ACL injury means she will be a bystander at the tournament, likely the 30-year-old’s last Olympics campaign, dashing her nation’s chances of success at the Paris Olympics, which begin in July — seven months from now and two months short of a typically ‘quick’ return to play following an ACL injury.

Sam Kerr
An ACL injury has ruled Matilda’s star, Sam Kerr, out of action for the majority of 2024

But then, they also said Australia were no hope at the most recent Women’s World Cup after Kerr suffered a calf injury on the eve of the tournament, limiting her involvement to four appearances, and two starts, all in the knockout.

Without Sam Kerr, the Matilda’s remain a formidable force in world football, such is the calibre of talent at Tony Gustavsson’s disposal. But even the Swede admitted Kerr’s loss would be monumental.

“With her ability to lead by example, Sam’s guidance and influence on the team is significant and, as a result, this will be an incredible loss for the national team,” he said.

That being said; what’s done is done, there is no magic, instant cure for Kerr’s ACL problems, and the Matilda’s must now prepare for life without Sam Kerr for the foreseeable future, and beyond.

Who replaces Sam Kerr in 2024?

Somewhat fortunately for the Matilda’s, Kerr’s absence from the opening matches of the 2023 Women’s World Cup meant they’d already gotten a taste of life without their talisman and prepared and played accordingly.

In that tournament, Emily Van Egmond and Mary Fowler led the line exceptionally well for Australia, each scoring once in the group stages. Neither are centre forwards in the traditional mould, who snake into the box with goal-scoring tunnel vision. Van Egmond is more a midfielder, shoehorned as a make-shift withdrawn forward during the tournament, while Fowler, Australia’s brightest young star, is an attacking midfielder.

matildas games, matildas news
Do the Matildas have enough firepower to mitigate Sam Kerr’s absence?

In nine games for Manchester City in the 2023-24 WSL season, Fowler has contributed no goals. Van Egmond, playing as an attacking midfielder for Newcastle Jets in the A-League Women, has three goals in four games in the 2023-24 campaign.

Together, the pair work well, and will be a handful for defences at the upcoming Paris Olympics, should the Matilda’s edge past Uzbekistan in their final qualifying matches at the end of February 2024. Add to the mix the goalscoring exploits of wide forwards Caitlin Foord, who has two goals for Arsenal in 23-24, and Hayley Raso, the equal-third highest score at the 2023 WWC. It’s evidently clear Australia can score by committee if need be.

Just as well, prolific goalscoring isn’t necessary to international success. When Canada won the women’s football competition at the 2020 Olympics, they did so scoring just six goals, with their top scorers finishing with two apiece. As the old saying goes; goals win games, defence wins championships.

Should they overcome Uzbekistan and qualify for Paris, a Kerr-less Matildas won’t head to the French capital as tournament heavyweights, but they shouldn’t be written off just because of the absence of their high profile captain.

In fact, their short-term prospects shouldn’t be the biggest concern raised by Kerr’s absence. Instead, one must wonder what the long-term future of the Matildas is without their divine forward.

While only 30, and with continually improving sports science meaning her career has a good chunk remaining, there is no immediate urgency to look for a ready-now replacement. But her ACL injury should at least kick the search into action.

Utilising Van Egmond, herself aged 30, as a make-shift, stop-gap striking solution, papers over the current gaps admirably. Her presence, however, comes at the expense of potentially resolving the issue of Kerr’s longer term replacement.

Alongside Van Egmond, Foord, Raso, and Kyah Simon, all likely to alleviate Australia’s goalscoring burden in their skipper’s wake, are in and around that 30-year-old mark. By no means is this quartet marked for imminent retirements, but they’re also not long-term solutions.

Who is the Matildas long-term Sam Kerr replacement?

At the Women’s World Cup, current Sydney FC star, Courtnee Vine, became an instant national hero with her shootout heroics, but the 25-year-old is more winger than striker, as is Leicester City’s Remy Siemsen.

If anything, Kerr’s sustained 2024 absence creates a clear pathway for three-cap, 20-year-old attacker, Holly McNamara to gain increased involvement in the Matildas fold. Capable of operating as a centre forward or winger, depending on tactical demands, the Melbourne City forward has six goals in five A-League Women matches in the 2023-24 season.

Of the young Australian forwards, McNamara, herself falling victim to an ACL injury early in her career, is the likeliest long-term Sam Kerr replacement; a natural scorer, the same age as chief creative force Mary Fowler, who can anchor the Matildas attack upon Kerr’s retirement and ease the goal-scoring burden once she returns from injury.

In sport, like in business, there may be no tougher feat than succession planning, not least when it’s forced upon you, as it has been to the Matildas. There is no seamless way to transition from one era to the next whilst maintaining standards and results.

Think of Manchester United’s struggles in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, which began unsuccessfully with David Moyes, anointed by Ferguson himself as his successor, and has plodding along uninspiringly as the club searches for some semblance of its former mighty greatness.

holly mcnamara, matildas
Could rising star Holly McNamara become the longer term Sam Kerr replacement?

Closer to home, one must only remember the Australian cricket team’s struggles to replace its mercurial leg-spinning maverick, Shane Warne. A search involving as many as eleven spinners before Nathan Lyon fell into selector’s surprised, yet appreciative, laps.

Sam Kerr is not Shane Warne; few athletes are. To the Matildas, however, her presence is Warne-esque, a player whose very presence can influence matches, even on the rare occasions her unbelievable ability cannot.

While her ACL injury lay-off is incredibly unfortunate, significantly denting the Matildas’ Olympic glory dreams, at the very least it forces future planning that’d have otherwise gone unthought of until it’s too late.

Picture of Kyle Robbins
Kyle Robbins
Kyle is a senior sports writer and producer at Only Sports who lives and breathes sport, with a particular burning passion for everything soccer, rugby league, and cricket. You’ll most commonly find him getting overly hopeful about the Bulldogs and Chelsea’s prospects. Find Kyle on LinkedIn.

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