Kenza Dali has battled back from one career-threatening injury – and one slapstick injury – to twice force herself back into the France squad and leave her on the cusp of a first major tournament appearance in seven years.
The Everton midfielder suffered a serious knee injury during Euro 2017 qualifying – deemed too complicated to fix by three different doctors – before heartbreakingly missing out on a World Cup on home soil in 2019.
“I had two surgeries but my knee was completely done,” Dali told 90min. “I had a doctor telling me it was over, the high level for me was over. I was struggling for two years without any training; I couldn’t walk properly, I couldn’t run anymore. I thought it was finished.
“Two years later I start to feel better and I’m like: ‘nah, this is not over.’ To come back to the national team at the highest level, with people telling you it’s over; that’s my biggest trophy, my biggest victory. Now I enjoy everything. When you imagine you are going to have to stop your career, everything is a bonus after that.”
While the first injury was career-ending serious, the one sustained before the 2019 World Cup is something in retrospect she can now see the funny side of.
“Oh it’s such a weird story. I dropped an iron on my toes,” Dali says with a laugh. “You know I could write a book about my career, honestly.”
The France international is talking to 90min a stroll away from Carnaby Street, which has been kitted out in the style of a Foosball table to celebrate the 100-day countdown until Euro 2022 kicks off at Old Trafford.
While the iron inflicted injury denied her a place at the 2019 World Cup in France, Euro 2022 offers Dali the next best thing; a major tournament in the country where she currently plies her trade.
“I feel at home in England now after three seasons,” the 30-year-old added. “Three seasons is short but it’s a long time as well when you’re foreign in another country far away from your family, so you find another family in England. I’m so glad I’m going to play a competition in a country which is my second home now.”
The English football culture was a telling factor in persuading Dali to move to the UK in 2019. A self-confessed football fanatic, Euro 2022 is her idea of a dream: one month of non-stop, wall-to-wall beautiful game action. She intends to absorb every second.
“I’m a big fan of football. Sometimes too much, sometimes really too much. I’m living football if I’m honest. My weekend is all about football. I’m watching Premier League, Ligue 1, La Liga; I’m watching every game, every type of game. I can stay at the academy at Everton or at all the clubs I’ve been at, I just sit and watch the little boys and the little girls.
“I always say I don’t remember my life without football. I started at five, obviously before five I don’t remember me. One day I will retire, football will still be my life, I’m still going to sit and watch football. That’s why I picked England as well, I wanted to feel the vibe. I’m living in Liverpool, I’m seeing everyday how passionate people are about this sport, You just feel the vibe in England, honestly.”
And what is she looking forward to most about Euro 2022?
“The final,” Dali replies with a laugh. “The final is the day of my birthday, so is it a sign?”
Tickets for UEFA Women’s EURO England 2022 are on sale now. Visit: www.uefa.com/womenseuro/ticketing. The tournament takes place across nine cities in England from 6-31st July 2022.