Arsenal Ladies and England striker aims to play on next season

Kelly Smith, England

Kelly Smith, England - Credit: EMPICS Sport

Kelly Smith has vowed to carry on playing next season – despite her constant uphill battle with fitness concerns.

The Arsenal and England striker, who has been plagued by injuries throughout her career, has struggled to fully recover from breaking her tibia over a year ago.

England currently top their World Cup qualifying group with maximum points after four games, but Smith would not be drawn on her prospects for Canada 2015 – insisting that performing well for Arsenal is her priority.

“I’m going to play next season and see how I feel,’ she said. ‘I still love what I do and feel like I’m in good shape.

“I’ve just been unfortunate with a freak injury this year. I’m currently taking my coaching badges now and I’ve been appointed player-assistant coach for Arsenal this year.

“It’s been a good learning curve already and something I hope to go into when I stop playing. My confidence has grown over the years and I feel like I have a lot of knowledge to help youngsters in the game.”

Smith, who made her first appearance as a television pundit on Sky Sports News last weekend and sees a career in media as ‘a possible avenue’ after retirement, believes there has been a shift in the status of women’s football since the dawn of the Women’s Super League.

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“The standard of women’s football has risen,” declared the Gunners striker, who came on as a substitute in both legs of her side’s 6-2 Champions League aggregate victory over Glasgow City this week.

“The new league is also attracting players from across Europe, due to its competitive nature.

“There is also more financial backing from club sides like Liverpool Ladies, which has helped them progress and win the WSL title.

“The FA has put together a five-year plan to change the outlook of women’s football in England, and it’s exciting to see the league grow.

“The league is in a healthy state at the minute with BT Sport coverage, and this TV exposure is essential, because if you don’t see it, you don’t know about it.”

The 35-year-old acknowledges the arrival of big-name players from abroad as essential for the WSL to develop, in much the same way that David Beckham made an impact on Major League Soccer.

“I would love to see more foreigners come to England because it raises the standards and profile and makes other teams stronger,” she said.

“Hope Solo’s name has been used heavily in connection with Manchester City, but we will just have to wait and see. Watch this space!”

Having served for three clubs in the United States – the undisputed Mecca of women’s football – it is surprising that Smith hasn’t received a phone call from the WSL on ways in which the game on our shores can be improved.

“There has been no communication between me and the league in terms of experiences in the USA,” she admitted.

“I have shared a few of my experiences that I think will help Arsenal. We have been the most professional club for a number of years.

“Everything we do is geared towards being as professional as possible and that’s why the club has been successful.”

In her autobiography Footballer: My Story, Smith devotes an entire chapter to former Three Lions manager, Hope Powell, who was sacked after England’s failure to qualify for the knockout stages at last summer’s European Championships.

Previously, Powell’s name had often been touted to fill vacancies in the men’s game, but England’s all-time leading goalscorer believes it is unlikely a female coach will be appointed to run a men’s team in the foreseeable future.

“I think it will be a very long time before a woman enters the men’s game,” Smith confessed.

“There aren’t that many English women who hold the Pro Licence, which is the highest licence in the game. I think a woman could do it [manage a men’s team] but will a club be brave enough to give the job to a woman?”

Smith also paid tribute to another key figure in her career – the late Peter Kay, founder of the rehabilitation clinic Sporting Chance, who passed away suddenly in September.

The Arsenal star, who entered the clinic after her alcohol addiction spiralled out of control, was quick to acknowledge the role Kay played in getting her career back on track.

“He was a big help and support early on in my treatment,” she added. “He was very easy to talk to and relate to. He was a friend and great at giving advice.

“You could tell him anything and he would just listen. It was a very sad day for me when I heard he’d passed away.”

Arsenal Ladies secured their place in the Champions League quarter-finals with a 3-2 win at Glasgow City on Wednesday night. Rachel Yankey, Jordan Nobbs and Alex Scott scored the Gunners’ goals.