Keira Walsh had the option of going down the safe, comfortable route when Barcelona knocked.
A few days after England claimed victory in the 2022 European Championship, it took place. She had made herself at home with Manchester City, the team she and her father had always cheered for. One of the top players in the world, the environment she had created was geared toward helping her continue on her upward trajectory.
But that’s not her way. The lure of the Champions League proved too much, and as she said: when Barcelona comes knocking, it’s tough to turn them down. Particularly if you’re a ball-playing No. 6, who is responsible for the majority of a team’s possession and transitions between defense and attack.
The tipping point for Walsh was Manchester City falling short in the Champions League. When she lined up against Real Madrid in their qualifier in August 2022, it was less than a month after she’d won the Euros. Her City teammate Lucy Bronze had already announced her move to Barca, while Georgia Stanway, her England midfield partner, had agreed to join Bayern Munich. City would lose the qualifier to Real Madrid at Estadio Alfredo di Stefano 1-0, with former City star Caroline Weir scoring the only goal. It was at that moment Walsh knew she needed a new challenge.
“It was probably not reaching those end stages of the Champions League and not even qualifying for the tournament [which did it],” Walsh says. “When a club like Barcelona comes in, it was very difficult to say no. Man City is my home club: it wasn’t an easy decision. But the chance to play Champions League football and win trophies meant it was something I couldn’t say no to.”
Barcelona, the dominant women’s club squad in the sport, is dominating Liga F this year. They have an absolutely laughable record and are 10 points ahead of Real Madrid: 22 victories out of 22, 98 goals scored, and only five goals allowed. It begs the question: if their journey to the top of the league and their fourth consecutive league triumph looks like a foregone conclusion, is it easy for them to go into cruise control?
In short: no. Walsh is out of her comfort zone, away from home, and focuses every day on getting better and living up to the renowned club crest when she arrives at training where she observes the other players and the extent they go to in order to improve.
Walsh’s breaking point came after Manchester City lost in the Champions League. Less than a month had passed since she had won the Championships when she took the field in their qualifying match against Real Madrid in August 2022. While Georgia Stanway, the England midfield partner of Lucy Bronze, had already committed to to Bayern Munich, Lucy Bronze’s City counterpart Lucy Bronze had already declared her move to Barca. In Stadium Alfredo di Stefano, City would lose the qualifying match to Real Madrid 1-0. Former City star Caroline Weir scored the game’s only goal. Walsh realized she needed a fresh challenge at that precise moment.
The failure to advance to the Champions League’s final stages and even to make the tournament, according to Walsh, “was probably what did it.” “It is quite difficult to say no to a team like Barcelona. My home club is Man City, but it wasn’t an easy choice. Yet, the opportunity to play Champions League football and win trophies made it impossible for me to refuse.”
Walsh claims that while Barcelona reportedly paid a world-record transfer fee for him, it is nothing compared to the expectations among this group of players. They are all kept honest by this. She admits, “Playing for Barcelona does come with pressure. “Being a member of such a famous club does come with pressure. However, it does get a little bit simpler as you practice and play the games more.