Karen Bardsley: The World Cup injury that almost cost my career

England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley on her horror injury, the long road to recovery and becoming team-mates with Megan Rapinoe. Watch the full interview on The Women’s Football Show on Sky Sports Football at 10.30pm on Friday.

Karen Bardsley admits she had to leave Manchester City to restart her career after a complicated injury left her questioning her future in football.

The England goalkeeper, who has signed for OL Reign on loan in the States, opened up for the first time about how a seemingly innocuous hamstring problem picked up in a World Cup quarter-final led to the most difficult time in her career.

Basically, I tore the hamstring tendon off the bone at the end of the first half against Norway at the World Cup in 2019. I knew something was wrong as it all felt a bit loose but I think adrenaline kept me going,” Bardsley toldĀ The Women’s Football Show.

“I don’t think I understood how bad it was at the time, it was probably because I managed to finish the game.

A few months later I had surgery and from that point onwards it was a 15-month recovery. The surgery was more invasive than I realised. It’s called ischial tuberosity, they needed to reattach tendons to the bottom of the pelvis, they had to drill in some holes and sew everything back together.

I got a fresh perspective about what it’s like to be out of the game and think about what I want from women’s football. Do I still love it? Do I still want to play? Absolutely, that’s why I moved. I want to play at the highest level and I want to show everyone what I’m capable of.

During that point, Ellie Roebuck replaced Bardsley in the starting line-up for Manchester City and eventually England. Bardsley decided to join OL Reign in Seattle on loan ahead of the new NWSL season, an unexpected career turn but one she is fully embracing.

Obviously it was a really tough decision to make but I had to do what was right for me and, ultimately, it was about not having any regrets. I’d be devastated if I let an opportunity go by and I was left with that ‘what if’ feeling.

“This is a trial run for me to see if I still love the sport. So far it’s ticking all the boxes. Don’t get me wrong, I still love City and I want to play in England but right now I’m very much focussed on being here and getting games.

The move has paid off in the short-term, with Bardsley getting recalled to the England squad to face France and Canada later this month. The 36-year-old needs just one cap to tie Rachel Finnis-Brown as England’s most-capped goalkeeper but it is this year’s Olympics that’s her main international motivation.

“My name comes up a lot, if I was a manager I’d struggle to pick someone that’s playing as much as me. I informed her (Hege Riise) I’m on loan, I’m out here in Seattle and I want to go to the Olympics and I will do whatever I can to make that happen.

“The FA is really good at keeping an eye on players abroad or on loan. On the men’s side, you see Jesse Lingard getting a call-up after his loan move to West Ham, so loan moves are great opportunities to get what you need at that moment.”

The move to OL Reign sees Bardsley become team-mates with her long-time international adversary Megan Rapinoe. Although Bardsley’s enjoying the new dynamic between them she admits country loyalties are still on her mind.

It’s been funny, we’ve known each other for 10 years from playing against each other. I walked in on the first day of training and I was like “hey, I’m KB” and Megan replied, “I know who you are, stop”. She’s been great fun, we just take the mickey out of each other. She’s been telling me about Sue Bird and the NWBA, it’s been great getting to know her.

“Sometimes you think though “I don’t want to give anything away” and maybe they (the U.S. players) are like that with us but all-in-all it’s a good thing to push each other.”

Bardsley’s deal at OL Reign expires at the end of June, as does her Manchester City contract, although there is an option to extend. But after so long out and such a tough battle to get back to where she belongs, Bardsley is remaining positive instead of worrying about the future.

“Seattle and Tacoma, this place is gorgeous, I try to spend spare time going on hikes and being an outdoors nut. I wake up in the morning and I just feel blessed. It’s well known for its weather and its coffee so it is a bit like the Manchester of America so, yeah, I feel really blessed.