Keira Walsh prepares for Camp Nou arc – and faces Georgia Stanway | Women’s Champions League
When Barcelona host Bayern Munich at Camp Nou in the Champions League on Thursday night, Keira Walsh will face a familiar face for the first time.
At the center of England’s run for the European Championship title this summer was the midfield trio of Walsh, Georgia Stanway and Fran Kirby. Walsh, 25, and Stanway, 23, each left Manchester City last summer, having followed a similar path so far, with Walsh joining Barcelona and Stanway signing for Bayern.
“I don’t think I’ve played against her before,” Walsh says after a reflective pause. “We even played together at Blackburn. We trained against each other but it’s not the same. She’s a great player. We know each other a lot. I’m sure she knows what to expect from me; I know what to expect from her. I probably won’t allow her to shoot – she likes to shoot a lot.
Playing at Camp Nou will be a new experience for both of them. While Lucy Bronze was unveiled on the pitch, there was no such introduction for Walsh when she later joined, and she only went to the stadium to watch a men’s game.
“The vibe, just like a fan, is crazy,” says Walsh. “It’s something I’ve never experienced in a football game before. Fan passion is on the next level. I haven’t been on the pitch yet but I’m really looking forward to it. to be there and obviously I can’t wait to see the game as well. It’s going to be a special moment for me and Lucy, we haven’t played here yet.
Unfortunately for Walsh, her father, who fostered a love of Spanish football when she was young, will not be in the stands. “He has work to do and I think he took too much time off at first,” she said. “When I first moved here he was helping me get settled…He was huge in me coming here and this decision. He always made me watch Spanish football. He always liked it. Obviously City weren’t that great when I was younger. They didn’t really win many games, so he always made me watch Barcelona. I think that’s probably why it’s such a special feeling for me to be here.
Perhaps this early love of Spanish football helped Walsh develop footballing intelligence to rival all of his England team-mates. She quickly found her feet in Barcelona. “There were definitely times when I was like, ‘Oh, I need to up my level a bit.’ It’s natural to come to a club like this, it’s such a special club and people talk about football, but when you’re here and you embrace it, it’s more like a culture.
“I feel pretty settled now. It’s probably down to the coaches and the girls. They’re really, really helpful – the coaches in particular. I have a translator who stood pretty much next to me throughout the training session. They don’t let me guess or they always explain everything to help me understand in analysis, and I think these little things make me feel more comfortable. I think if I can feel comfortable off the pitch and in and around training, that will only translate into games.
It wasn’t all easy, the biggest challenge being getting the players to understand his Mancunian accent. Bronze, who speaks Portuguese and French and started learning Spanish this summer, tells Walsh that Alexia Putellas, Barcelona captain and two-time Ballon d’Or winner, says “she doesn’t really understand what I’m saying a lot time”.