Keira Walsh assumes central stage as Barcelona conquer Europe again

Keira Walsh gets caught up in a conga line going past the waiting press, trophy at the front, singing loud. She eventually hauls herself back in order to speak to the journalists, waiting patiently as they finish another interview.

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“Keira is an amazing player,” shouts Caroline Graham Hansen over the noise and Walsh grins in response, sunglasses on, flag slung round her shoulders, gold Champions League medal around her neck following victory over Wolfsburg in Eindhoven on Saturday. “Keira brings the vibes and happiness to the team.”

It was not the first time Graham Hansen had praised Walsh, who swapped Manchester City for Barcelona last summer with a first Champions League win set firmly in her sights. “She’s a fantastic player and we’re very lucky to have her,” the winger said in Friday’s pre-match press conference. “She has very good vision for the game. She has adapted well. It’s not easy to come to Barça and play as a No 6. She’s taken that with ease.”

“Her passing of the game, understanding of the game, where she can win the ball for us and make us keep attacking, it’s been amazing,” added Graham Hansen. “Also, as a person in the locker room she’s been fantastic to have, a very good person that gives a lot to the football team outside of the pitch which is very important to create a good team vibe, to work for each other.”

Walsh was crucial as Barcelona came from two goals down at the Philips Stadion to win 3-2 and secure a second European title. “I think today Keira could have easily got player of the match, but you probably have to score to get one of those,” her Barça and England teammate Lucy Bronze said.

“Our midfield players are unbelievable and the fact that Keira has been able to come in and command a midfield, I think, personally, more than anybody else on the field, she’s shown why she’s one of, if not the best holding midfielder in the world right now.”

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A bold opinion, one held by a few people for a long time, but now, with Walsh a European champion for club and country, a view accepted and acknowledged more widely.

In 2019 the then‑Manchester City manager Nick Cushing described Walsh as “up there unrivalled with the most intelligent players I have ever worked with”, adding: “With European football, you have to be so smart in spaces and the way she picks up and affects the buildup, dictating play and helping other players, is pivotal to us.”

Patri Guijarro, who scored Barcelona’s first two goals on Saturday and was named player of the match, highlighted just how quickly Walsh has fit into the most technically astute midfield in the world. “Playing with Keira, it makes football easier,” Guijarro said. “It’s true that it’s not easy to adapt to FC Barcelona. She’s done that in record time. She’s adapted so well because of her ability to understand football.

“We’ve helped her, but her ability has allowed her to do what she’s done. From Christmas onwards, everything was easier. We have managed to adapt to each other and have shown that fluidity on the pitch and in our game.”

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Walsh ran to the stands to celebrate with best friend and England teammate Leah Williamson, Williamson’s Arsenal teammate Lia Wälti, her parents and her agent following victory sealed by Fridolina Rolfö’s 70th-minute goal. She later admitted it was only after a few months she truly started to find her feet in Catalonia. “It took some time,” Walsh said. “I think after Christmas was when I started to feel most comfortable and confident. Playing with these players makes it easy.”

All this, of course, is good news for England, with two Champions League winners in their ranks before the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, which starts on 20 July.

“It’s a very good thing for England,” Beth Mead said on the morning of the final. “Keira has got a special quality. Everyone who watched the Euros final knows that, she played the forward pass that most people wouldn’t play, to Tooney [Ella Toone] for the goal that set us on our way.

“Keira, she just makes football look easy. You’re comfortable as a team and as a forward player with her there. You know that if you make that run you’re going to get that ball because Keira sees things before other people.”