The world knows Australia and Chelsea striker Sam Kerr. She scores goals. She backflips to celebrate. She drops pitch invaders on their backsides. She tells the haters to “suck on that one.”

Audiences everywhere know the happy, infectious, joyful Matildas captain Kerr. But there is another Kerr that we all don’t quite know. The Kerr who sat deep in contemplation in the middle of the Stade de Nice, having missed a penalty in a round of 16 game against Norway at the Women’s World Cup. The incredulous, disbelieving Kerr whose goal was disallowed in the semifinals of the Olympics against Sweden.

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In those moments, where Kerr isn’t inevitable, she’s just human. You can’t help but look at her, trying to be stoic but the disappointment seeping through, and wonder: What’s going on in that head of hers? How can any one person carry the expectations of the nation — its collective joy and heartache — on their shoulders alone? How is she actually feeling?

“When I miss a really big chance in a really big game, I do think about it. I feel really guilty and I put a lot of blame on myself,” Kerr reveals in Disney’s new series, “Matildas: The World at Our Feet.”

“Those are the moments that normally make me who I am as a player. I hate losing more than I like winning.

“As captain of the team there is that responsibility to perform. That’s sport sometimes like, you do everything in your power and then you rock up and you don’t have your best performance.”

Her feelings of guilt and responsibility are immensely relatable. After the Asian Cup exit at the quarterfinal stage in January 2022, Kerr was similarly disappointed. It was plain to see on the broadcast and in photos. Now, fans know what she was thinking as well.

“That’s probably one of the biggest opportunities missed. We never expected to go out at the quarterfinal. We were probably a bit complacent. I didn’t even process that we were going to go home,” she said.

“I was personally disappointed, I missed a big chance. Maybe I take on too much responsibility sometimes but yeah, when there’s a big moment that I miss I definitely think about it more than I should.”

Kerr had a number of chances in that quarterfinal. On any other day she would have put them away; sneaking them in on the correct side of the post, hitting sweetly instead of scuffed. The responsibility she feels, as the striker and the captain, runs deep.

“Sorry for the s— misses guys” Kerr told her teammates in the circle postmatch. As her teammates begin a mismatched chorus of responses, she walks away. She’s the kind of player who needs that moment of reflection on her own, away from everyone else to begin processing what’s just happened.

Kerr doesn’t consider herself an emotional person over football. But she is the kind of player who wears her heart on her sleeve on the pitch. Much like she can’t contain the joy bursting out of her when she scores and the Matildas win, she cannot hide her dejection when she misses and the Matildas lose. Processing these losses isn’t unique to Kerr, every footballer loses games. But you could argue that very few footballers face the same exact pressure that Kerr is under.

Being the captain of a team co-hosting the World Cup is one thing. Being that country’s all-time leading goal scorer and widely regarded as one of the best strikers in the world is another. Throw in being the literal face of the sport and the most easily identifiable and recognisable Australian footballer on the planet and you have a pressure hat trick.

The expectations have only ramped up for the Matildas and Kerr in the year leading up to the World Cup. None of it has been aided by the team’s run of results. After the pair of friendlies against Canada, one of the lowest points in the Tony Gustavsson era, Kerr was frank in just how difficult this run had been.

“I was embarrassed honestly. I take a lot of the blame on myself. I didn’t have enough shots. I didn’t have enough opportunities,” she said. “There’s no denying we haven’t had the best results and for someone senior player like myself, that’s really, really frustrating.

“But now’s the time to make it a turning point, right? I hope that we have this transformation and that’s what we’re building towards, we’re building to peak when the World Cup happens. So this will be a moment that helps the team for the future.”

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Kerr’s leadership style by her own admission isn’t anything flashy.

“As captain of the team, I’m not this motivational captain that will stand up there and give these amazing speeches,” Kerr admits. “But I’m doing everything I can to make us win. There’s so much pressure to perform well and do something amazing for our country, the Matildas have become a household name and everyone expects them to win.”

There’s another factor about her leadership that she fails to mention but oozes out of her in nearly every episode of the documentary. Kerr cares. Deeply. Of course, she cares about winning, as well as this team and this country. She cares about the responsibility she wields as captain, as the striker, and as an Australian sporting superstar.

“Sam is a really good captain just because she cares about every single player you know, and she’ll stand up for everyone,” Mary Fowler said of her skipper.

That was never more evident than the rare behind the scenes look at Kerr’s reaction to Robbie Slater’s article on the frontpage of the Daily Telegraph when she broke Tim Cahill’s scoring record.

“Literally, the most sexist thing you could say,” Kerr fumes. “It literally says ‘Kerr’s goals, not equal.'”

Rather than focusing on the disrespect leveled against her, her focus turned elsewhere.

“Imagine little girls reading that,” she says. “I cannot believe in this day and age that someone could write this and like have young girls read it. And the Telegraph would actually publish such a sexist comment on the front page.”

Kerr cares about young kids and equality. And she cares about what this World Cup will do not only for this generation of Matildas but the next one. If you ask any given Matilda, the chances of her saying that Cathy Freeman was her idol growing up is pretty high.

“At the time I was just amazed, blown away that every single person in the country could be talking about one person and she was a female athlete,” Kerr said of Freeman.

The impact of Freeman’s gold medal in the 400 metres at the 2000 Olympics is so far-reaching that half a team of footballers saw themselves in her and wanted to be the best they could be. The Women’s World Cup presents the Matildas the chance for their own Freeman moment.

“We want to be that changing point for young girls to look back on and go, yeah, remember watching the Matildas play at the World Cup? Remember that like ‘dang, that’s what I want to do,'” Kerr said.

Kerr and the Matildas want to leave a legacy. They, like the Matildas before them, want to leave the sport in a better place than where they found it. For Football Australia’s head of women’s football Sarah Walsh, legacy “is leaving more than memories than the actual World Cup itself.”

Beyond the excitement and joy is a real need for increased facilities for women and girls. Diversity and inclusion need to be more than buzzwords but rather central pillars in the decision-making process. Barriers to participation — whether they be social, financial, or cultural — need to be removed to allow the next generation of Matildas to have it that little bit easier than the past ones.

Kerr’s legacy is one that is already being felt and seen on the next generation; her sister Maddie Kuhn, a school teacher, can see it in her work.

“I get lots of young kids come up to me and say I’m starting to play soccer to be like your sister and I don’t think she realises,” Kuhn said.

As for Kerr herself, she looks at her legacy with a much broader lens.

“I think my legacy is proving to the world that Australia is not someone that can just be forgotten about,” she said. “This is unimaginable for anyone 20 years ago. That Australia could host a World Cup, that we could be like one of the best countries in the world at football, that we could have this much investment, this much support. All of this.

“If you told me in 20 years ago, I would have never ever believed it and no one in the Matildas would have. I hope Australia is a part of the change in women’s football for good.”

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The pressure of being Sam Kerr at the Women’s World Cup