THE Lionesses have faced a tortuous wait to return to international action and none more so than Karen Bardsley, writes Adam Millington.
The goalkeeper last played in an official match of any kind in June 2019 when England beat Norway in the World Cup quarter-finals.
It was there that she suffered the biggest setback she has faced yet in her career: tearing her hamstring tendon off the bone.
“It’s been an interesting experience, I have to say. I’ve dealt with injuries in the past but nothing quite like this,” said Bardsley, who has returned from the USA to take part in the latest national team camp.
“I have to say it’s been a test of my patience, it’s been a test of my desire and importantly it’s been a test of perspective, I think.
“It’s something I’ve had to think about a lot, particularly with Covid and the lockdowns and I’ve had a lot of time to reassess what it is I really want to do.”
In her absence, Ellie Roebuck has risen to the challenge and firmly cemented herself in the number one spot at Manchester City.
In the pursuit of minutes, Bardsley has returned to her country of birth, the United States, to join OL Reign on loan.
“[The injury has] made me become very clear on my own goals and the things I’d like to achieve and hence that’s why I moved to OL Reign in Washington state,” she continued.
“They’ve welcomed me with open arms and I’m really enjoying my football at the minute.
“We’ve already had a few sessions here and I’ve really enjoyed those as well so it’s given me a different platform to achieve my goals really.
“In one way, I guess I have to be grateful for the time that I’ve had to be able to assess to be able to assess what is important to me in life and from a footballing perspective as well, but ultimately I’m back where I want to be.”
The experienced goalkeeper is one of only four players to feature for Team GB at London 2012 who is still in the fold with England.
Hege Riise, who is currently managing the national team on an interim basis, will also be in charge of the team that is set to feature in Tokyo this summer.
Competition for places, however, will be incredibly fierce, with two goalkeepers and one reserve will journey to Japan.
Will the loan move to the NWSL, and the different calendar which that the league uses, help Bardsley in her quest for selection?
“That’s the plan,” she said. “For me it works out great. It was disappointing not getting the games that I wanted and potentially not feeling as myself as I was hoping I would do once I returned from the injury.
“I think that taking the opportunity and not having any regrets with the loan is a real big positive on many levels. It’s allowed me to find myself, find my enjoyment again, find my confidence.
“I love it. It’s made me realise that I genuinely love football and it’s reignited that fire and that’s something that I was questioning a little bit over the course of my injury and over the course of the lockdown.
“I do genuinely think that this league is mental. The NWSL is open, every single team in the league is fairly even par and, let’s just say, I probably won’t have a shortage of things to do.
“I think that transitioning to a major tournament, it will benefit me greatly.”
When she was growing up, playing in the Olympics was always something that Bardsley aspired to do, and participating in London 2012 fulfilled that dream.
“I remember being sixteen years old and sitting in high school with some of my friends over lunch and we were asking each other about what kind of tattoos we would get,” she recalled.
“I said that the only absolute way I would get a tattoo is if I went to the Olympics, and we all just kind of laughed it off. Lo and behold I ended up going so that will forever be etched in my mind and on my wrist.
“For it to happen once was a dream and for it to happen again would be absolutely unreal. It would be really, really high up there on my list of achievements.”