Sport

Keira Walsh prepares for Camp Nou bow – and facing Georgia Stanway

When Barcelona welcome Bayern Munich to the Camp Nou in the Champions League on Thursday night, Keira Walsh will be opposite a familiar face for the first time.

Central to England’s run to the European Championship title in the summer was the midfield trio of Walsh, Georgia Stanway and Fran Kirby. The 25-year-old Walsh and 23-year-old Stanway each left Manchester City last summer, having followed a similar path until then, with Walsh joining Barcelona and Stanway signing for Bayern.

“I don’t think I’ve ever played against her,” says Walsh after a pause for thought. “We even played together at Blackburn. We’ve trained against each other but it’s not the same. She’s a great player. We know a lot about each other. I’m sure she knows what to expect from me; I know what to expect from her. I’m probably not going to be allowing any shots from her – she likes to shoot a lot.”

Playing at the Camp Nou will be a new experience for both. Whereas Lucy Bronze was unveiled at the ground, there was no such introduction for Walsh when she joined later, and she has been to the stadium only to watch a men’s game.

“The atmosphere, just as a fan, is crazy,” says Walsh. “It’s something that I’ve never experienced at a football game before. The passion from the fans, it’s next level. I’ve not been on the pitch yet but I’m really looking forward to it and, obviously, really looking forward to the game as well. It’s going to be a special moment for me and Lucy; we’ve not played here yet.”

Unfortunately for Walsh, her father, who encouraged a love of Spanish football when she was young, won’t be in the stands. “He’s got work and I think he took too much time off at the start,” she says. “When I first moved over here he was helping me settle in … He was massive in me coming here and that decision. He’s always made me watch Spanish football. He’s always appreciated it. Obviously, City wasn’t so 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 that early love of Spanish football helped Walsh develop a football intelligence to rival all of her England teammates. She has found her feet quickly at Barcelona. “There were definitely times where I thought: ‘Oh, I need to step up my level a little bit.’ It’s only natural coming to a club like this, it is such a special club and people talk about football but when you are here and you are embracing it, it feels more like a culture.

“I feel fairly settled now. That’s probably down to the coaches and the girls. They are really, really helpful – the coaches in particular. I have a translator pretty much stood next to me the whole training session. They don’t leave me guessing or they always explain everything to me to help me understand in analysis, and I think those little things make me feel more comfortable. I think if I can feel comfortable off the pitch and in and around training, that’s only going to translate into games.”

It hasn’t all been smooth, the biggest challenge being getting players to understand her Mancunian accent. Bronze, who speaks Portuguese and French and began learning Spanish in the summer, tells Walsh that Alexia Putellas, Barcelona’s captain and two-times Ballon d’Or winner, says “she doesn’t really understand what I’m saying a lot of the time”.