BY PAUL LAGAN
Fran Kirby lasted 75 minutes in the 2-1 victory over Arsenal and got better as the game went on.
That in itself is a sure sign the ‘mini Messi’ is returning to the level that secured her all the individual domestic gongs two season go.
But Emma Hayes is keen to emphasise that Kirby needs careful management for her injuries to heal 100 per cent.
When it was suggested that Kirby and Erin Cuthbert were only operating at 70 per cent, Hayes replied they were not even at that level yet.
Of Kirby in particular, Hayes said: “I want to say this – I spent a lot of time not saying a lot about Fran Kirby because there is huge expectation on that player.
“It’s really important for everybody to know that she has made her way back from really, really critical injuries – she has had effectively four kneecaps.
So you really need to understand that with. So with a really explosive player like she is, she might need more time to recover. So it’s important that we build her through this period.
“We can’t go from zero to 90 minutes (straight away). No, she isn’t anywhere near her best level yet.
But you know she has come through another game today, she grew in confidence. I value her life, and her career, and so I think you have to put that in front, and protect her because there are not many talents like Fran Kirby, believe me.”
“We cannot overexposure her where she gets injured. No more – we need to manage her career properly, and I have a responsibility to do that, as does England.”
So will she get back 100 per cent this season?
“Yeah,” said Hayes.
“She got injured in Israel, so she didn’t get a full pre-season. Erin only started training the week of the Tottenham game. Fran had two weeks then no training, then when she came back in the squad, she only had a week’s training.
“I took a risk with Erin on Sunday. But sometimes you are going to do it, but I’m going to do it less with Fran.
“We all need to look after Fran – a collective responsibility to do that and recognise that she has had a really challenging time.
“She may not get there as quickly as everybody wants but it’s important we get her back in the right amount of time.”