Chloe Kelly is Proof That Comebacks are Bigger Than Setbacks

Chloe Kelly is Proof That Comebacks are Bigger Than Setbacks

The Manchester City stargirl is back where she belongs, and the sky really is the limit for what she can achieve.

May 19th 2022

Chloe Kelly is the one of the best products of English football in the last decade. Facts.

The West Londoner might have grown up a QPR fan but graduated from Arsenal's Academy with flying colours. She's been gunning for glory since day one, an attitude she developed while playing ball with her five brothers on their local estate. Kelly's tekky feet are what sets her apart from the rest of the competition, there's no denying.

From street football to FA Cup glory with Manchester City. CK9 reminds players and fans on the weekly, how beautiful the game can really be. Born down South but made up North, Kelly's decision to go on loan back in 2016 with Everton, changed the course of her career forever.

Her dominant displays up front for the Toffees caught the attention of every club in the country, including WSL champions City. In her debut season with The Cityzens, Kelly scored 16 goals in 34 appearances and helped her side win the most historic cup in football history - The FA Cup. Supporters voted her Player of the Season at the end of 2020/21, whilst Kelly was also included in the PFA’s Team of the Year and scooped up the Women’s Player of the Year accolade at the North West Football Awards. Some players don't have the receipts to back up their claims to fame, but Kelly's got pockets full.

Despite an ACL injury sidelining her for almost a year, Kelly is back to pick things up where she left off, and she's done just that. Scoring in her first start for City in 11 months and helping her side reach a fourth Women's FA Cup Final. Her recent club performances have have caught the attention of England Manager, Sarina Wiegman, who recently included Kelly in her Lionesses' provisional squad ahead of this summer's Euros.

Earlier this year, Kelly renewed her contract with The Sky Blues and most recently re-signed to one of the biggest brands in football, Nike. Everyone wants a piece of this playmaker, but it's her who's making the play for the top spot.

VERSUS caught up with Kelly as she signed on the dotted line with the Swoosh Family to talk about her road to recovery, her hopes ahead of this summer's European Championships and how important that move away from London was for her career and personal growth.

Photography by Serena Brown for VERSUS.

VERSUS: Moving to Everton was one of the biggest moves you’ve made in your career to date. How have you found the move up North over the last few years, do you miss London at all?

Chloe Kelly: We try to come back as much as we can, when I get days off for example – especially if I’ve got two in a row. I’ll make sure I make a trip down to see my family, but when I am here, I don’t really tend to do much!

I don’t miss it as much as I thought I would, it’s more about making sure I see my parents and siblings more than anything else.

Full disclosure, I am an Arsenal fan, so I was devastated when you left the club a few years ago and moved up to Liverpool to play with Everton…

In that moment, I was devastated as well! I can’t lie, but I knew I had to make that move because no matter how well I trained – I was scoring a lot in pre-season too – or with the team during the actual season, I just couldn’t ‘break through’ into the First Team. And that made the motivation to keep training at a high standard quite difficult, personally.

I did find moving up North quite difficult initially, I was still quite young when I made that move.

“At the time, I just thought: “how can I progress, if I’m not playing?” You need to be able to make mistakes in order to learn from them.”

You’re a bit of a homebird aren’t you?

I come from quite a big family – I’ve got six siblings! – so yeah, it’s hard not to be! I grew up playing football with my brothers, we’re from West London and our family are big QPR fans. Football means a lot to us, and I learnt in the beginning how to play football by playing with my siblings. So when I did move away, I would travel down every single day I had off just to see them.

I found it really difficult at times being away from them, but I knew it was for the best. Plus, my family were really open to me making that move. They knew it’s what I needed to do, and fully supported my decision to leave London. I wouldn’t be where I am now if I didn’t take that step. It took a lot, but I am 100% glad I did it. At the time, I just thought: “how can I progress, if I’m not playing?”

You need to be able to make mistakes in order to learn from them, but I wasn’t even getting the opportunity to do that.

And you’ve gone from strength-to-strength since! During the 19/20 season you scored nine goals in 12 games for the Toffees…levels! And I remember you scored a hattrick against Reading that season as well. The first time an Everton player had scored one since 2013!

Your injury earlier this season must have been really challenging to accept, especially off the back of a successful season with Everton and a solid start with City. How has your road to recovery been, and how are you feeling in ‘yourself’?

It was really difficult, there’s no denying that. But right now, I am feeling good and most importantly confident!

I don’t feel like I’ve lost my ‘ways’, if that makes sense? I watch training videos back or snippets from games, and I don’t sit there thinking: “oh wow, I am playing so differently, is that really me!” Sometimes, with an ACL injury as well, you can really lose your confidence because of the severity of the injury. But, I haven’t felt like that at all!

I’m really getting back to feeling myself, and I think I’m mentally stronger from before the injury in all honesty.

“I just kept thinking these challenges and obstacles are only going to shape me into a better person and player. Both mentally and physically.”

What have you been looking forward to the most about getting back on the pitch? You’re clearly very happy to be back out there, living your best life again!

Just expressing myself really! And being able to prove to the world that, although this was a big injury and there will be others who experience something similar, you can overcome it. The same with whatever challenges come along with rehab. They might feel impossible at the time, but you can do it.

That being said, it hasn’t been an easy ride. But, I just thought these challenges and obstacles are only going to shape me into a better person and player. Both mentally and physically. It took a while, but I can now definitely see light at the end of the tunnel – whereas a few months ago, that necessarily wasn’t the case.

This entire process has made me realise, I have the strength to overcome things maybe I didn’t think I could a year or so ago. And it’s important I remember that and I’m continued to be inspired by it.

How did you tell yourself that there was “light at the end of the tunnel”? It must have been really difficult to get through some of those incredibly low points…

It was! But, having good people around you and taking each day as it came – not looking too far ahead especially. Telling myself that although today might be a difficult day, tomorrow will be a better one. So, I think just trying to keep perspective really helped.

Not looking at when I might be playing next or what I might be missing out on in training. Thinking that, each day is getting me to where I want to be. That was the main thing, and knowing that by me giving my all to the recovery process meant that I’ll only get that back in the future – when I’m on the pitch.

There is never any point to cutting corners or not putting the effort in, because in the long run, it’s only me who misses out. Making sure I was switched on everyday to that idea and channelling that attitude, helped me to understand and accept that not every single day is going to be a great one.

At the start, that was really hard to accept but looking back, I probably needed to experience those difficult days to be where I am now.

“I can definitely feel that they’re just as excited to have me back, as I am to be back!”

Having the support of a brand like Nike, and re-signing to them after a really tumultuous year, must have reassured you and kept the confidence levels high at times too?

Growing up you dream of working with a brand like Nike! And to have their continued support definitely makes you feel cared for as an athlete and a person. To re-sign with them is a great feeling! I love the brand and they genuinely help as much as they can.

Your teammates must have been really supportive during the whole process. VERSUS spoke with Keira Walsh recently and she was so encouraging and keen to get back on the pitch with you. She said you were killing it in training sessions before clocking up your first set of minutes recently…

Did she! That’s really lovely to hear. The girls around me have been brilliant. I had to take some time away from the team as I did my rehab elsewhere – mainly in Liverpool plus two weeks in America – and that was important because it meant I got to focus on myself.

But I knew about the injury issues at the club, and how many players were sidelined because of that. It really made me want to get back and help! Then when they were picking up momentum and getting back to their winning ways, I just wanted to get out there and be a part of it! I was really hungry to contribute, I can’t lie.

It’s really nice to know that they were thinking of me though, just as much as I was thinking of them – it gives you confidence, you know? I can definitely feel that they’re just as excited to have me back, as I am to be back!

You’ve come back and slotted so well into the team again – you’ve already been on the scoresheet since returning! You’ve just played in an FA Cup Final, then there’s this summer’s Euros…

How much would you love to be a part of that tournament? It must have been quite hard not to think about it while sidelined due to injury.

Yeah, definitely. I think that’s the one I’ve had my eyes set on, but I’m not getting too ahead of myself. I’ve been taking each day as it comes, and last weekend was no different. But, I’ve been working hard and performing well. So, hopefully when the time does come, I’ll be in the mix for kick-off in July!

“I definitely want to be one of those players who does win a major trophy with England. That’s always been something I’ve wanted to achieve.”

We’d put money on it at VERSUS! You’re a born winner, and constantly strive to be the very best version of yourself. The prospect of playing in a European Championship, on homesoil, that must be so exciting as a player.

It really is. I am definitely someone who doesn’t want to look back on their career having not won any trophies. I’d love to win the Champions League but winning an international tournament with your country, that’s really special as it’s something not many players actually manage to achieve during their careers.

I definitely want to be one of those players who does win a major trophy with England. That’s always been something I’ve wanted to achieve.

There’s every chance you could do that this summer…

We’ll have to wait and see! But if I’m on the pitch I’ll make sure I’ll give it everything to make sure we’ve got a chance. And if our team can play the way I know we can, there’s everything to play for.