Fran Kirby has been in exceptional form since returning to the pitch after nine months out through illness, but the Chelsea and England forward believes she can be even better.
The 27-year-old was diagnosed with pericarditis back in November, a condition which consists of inflammation of the lining around the heart.
On Friday, she pulled an England shirt back on for the first time in 14 months and, while it was only an in-house friendly, she was again one of the best players on the pitch, continuing her fine start to the season after a trio of stand-out displays for Chelsea - but for all the praise Kirby has received over the last few weeks, she believes there is still a lot more she can give.
“I’m at a stage of my career where I can be more critical of myself,” she said. “I haven’t always been good at that. I struggled to accept when I hadn’t had the best of games because I had got an assist, or I had got a goal or whatever.
“You kind of walk off the pitch happy regardless [of the overall performance] and now I’m nit-picking. Could I have done better? Could I have passed there, or should I have been more selfish and maybe scored a goal?
“I am at a really good level. I think I am probably the fittest I’ve been for a long, long time just purely because it’s something I’ve worked really hard on for the last three or four months.
“I think there is still another level I can go to. I think I can be more clinical in my finishing, I can improve.”
Kirby returned to competitive action with a stunning display in Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Manchester City in the Community Shield last month.
Since then, she has backed up that performance with two more brilliant ones in the Women’s Super League, scoring her first league goal in 16 months against Bristol City – her first goal in any competition since she netted in England’s third-place play-off at the Women’s World Cup last summer.
Chelsea boss Emma Hayes couldn’t help but heap the praise on her forward off the back of that, saying she believes “Fran is at a level above already”.
“When you hear a manager say something like that it is really special,” Kirby, who has 45 caps for England, said. “I’ve worked really closely with Emma the last few weeks and we’ve grown a lot closer on and off the pitch.
“I think I’ve matured a lot off the pitch. I want to be the best player every day in training, in games, that means I’m the best team-mate.”
The praise has come from far and wide, with messages of support for the player once described as a ‘mini Messi’ - by former England boss Mark Sampson - pouring in.
“You see [the support], but I’m trying not to get ahead of myself,” Kirby added. “I still need to work hard and improve, but no support has gone unnoticed, reading everyone’s comments about me being back and all the positives I’ve had.
“I need to keep working, I need to keep producing the performances. That’s the journey I’m on. I want to keep progressing on that, but it’s been incredible to hear people saying so many positive things about you, not just as a player but as a person.
“I’ve come back energised, I’ve come back smiling. I’m enjoying it. That means more to me, how people see you as a person.”
The time away from the pitch has also made her value the return to action more, after so long out on her own.
“I train like every day like it is going to be my last one. That’s just the attitude I have,” Kirby said.
“I will never underestimate the joy I get out of playing and training, being in a team environment. I’ve spent a lot of time by myself and I learned a lot about myself, it wasn’t always negative, but being in a team, with your friends, day in, day out, there’s nothing that can replicate that.
“I take every day and I cherish every day and I enjoy every day and I think that is why my performances are going in the right way. As long as I’m happy, smiling and enjoying myself, hopefully I’ll keep building and keep putting good performances in for my team.”