Chelsea and England striker Fran Kirby ruled out ‘for foreseeable future’

Chelsea and the England women’s team have both been dealt a major blow with forward Fran Kirby ruled out for “the foreseeable future” because she is suffering with fatigue, the cause of which has not yet been diagnosed.

Kirby has been unable to play for club or country since February and a concerned-sounding Chelsea manager Emma Hayes said on Friday that Kirby is “struggling” and the club have not yet been able to get to the bottom of the issue yet, which will be of concern to England supporters too with under three months remaining until the Euros.

Kirby, who won a clean sweep of Player of the Year awards last term when she was named as the PFA, Football Writers Association and WSL Player of the Year, is one of the English game’s biggest talents, but her career has been cruelly impacted by long-term illness previously. She missed the majority of the 2019-20 campaign after being diagnosed with pericarditis, caused by an inflammation of the fluid-filled sac around her heart, before fighting back to fitness to help Chelsea to a treble last season.

When confirming that Kirby would not be able to play in Sunday’s Women’s FA Cup semi-final away at Arsenal – a side against whom Kirby shined in victory at Wembley in last year’s final – Hayes said of Kirby: “No, there’s no chance of her playing at the weekend. She’s been taking some time in the background, she’s been suffering with a lot of fatigue. I don’t have a definitive reason why that is, we don’t know.

“But we’re trying to get to the bottom of it and taking the time we can to try and find the right solutions for Fran, because this is something that’s been ongoing, and unfortunately, until we get to the bottom of it, Fran won’t be available for selection.”

Hayes was unsure when the 28-year-old might be able to return to action, adding: “I think, forget the athlete, just [think about] a human being, and she’s struggling and we have to get to the bottom of that. I don’t think Fran will be available for club and country until that happens.

“I’m not withholding [information], because I don’t have anything to tell you, because we haven’t got to the bottom of it and until we get to the bottom of it and until we understand some of the underlying reasons for that fatigue, I’d just be speculating. So we’re going through a process of elimination to try and determine why she’s struggling.

“We need to give the time to find the right support so that we can come up with a diagnosis and then with diagnosis, you can come up with strategies. So right now, I don’t have any answers. What I know is that she’s not available for club or country and she won’t be for the foreseeable future.”

Kirby’s fatigue problem will inevitably cast significant doubts around whether or not she will be fit for selection for July’s Women’s Euros on home soil, which are now fewer than 12 weeks away.

Kirby scored on her most recent England appearances, against Germany at Molineux in February when England lifted the invitational Arnold Clark Cup, but she was left out of the Lionesses squad for April’s Women’s World Cup qualifiers against North Macedonia and Northern Ireland so that she could work on a personal recovery programme at Chelsea because of her undiagnosed illness.

In the meantime, the issue appears likely to see her miss much of the conclusion to the domestic campaign, with Chelsea having the WSL title mathematically in their hands with four games remaining, sitting one point ahead of Arsenal. The two London rivals go head-to-head at a sold-out Meadow Park in Borehamwood, Arsenal Women’s home ground, on Sunday.