Kelly Smith: Arsenal Ladies & England legend retires from professional football

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Kelly Smith retires: The incredible career of an Arsenal & England icon

England's record goalscorer and Arsenal forward Kelly Smith has retired from football at the age of 38.

Smith, who scored 46 goals for her country, became England's first female professional footballer when she joined American side New Jersey in 1999.

The striker earned 117 England caps, played in six major tournaments and represented Team GB at the 2012 London Olympics.

Smith won five FA Cups with Arsenal, scoring six goals in those five finals.

"It just feels the time is right now," she told BBC Sport. "I think I've had a very good career at both international and club level, I've travelled the world and, at the age of 38, the body is telling me it needs to stop.

"I don't have any regrets, I've loved every minute of it. Every time I put that England shirt on, I felt a lot of emotion playing for my country.

"The game is in a magnificent place at the moment and it's good to step away at the right time."

Smith, who ended her international career in 2015, played in two World Cups and four European Championships, scoring a goal in the final of Euro 2009.

'England women's first football superstar'

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It's the right time to retire - Smith

Awarded an MBE for services to football in 2008, Smith's career saw her win numerous accolades and individual honours, including being named the FA Women's Players' Player of the Year in 2006 and 2007.

She came third in Fifa Women's World Player of the Year in 2009 - one of four occasions she finished in the top five for the award.

While playing for Arsenal, Smith has won the 2006-07 Uefa Cup - the only British team to have won what is now the Champions League - and five FA Cups, plus played a part in numerous league titles.

"Kelly Smith is the best women's player England has ever produced, and one of the foremost players in the history of the women's game," said BBC Match of the Day commentator Jonathan Pearce, who extensively covers the women's game.

"In terms of technique, when she was in her pomp, she was way above anything else coming out of the UK at that time. She had power, strength, a lovely eye for a pass, finishing of course and was so dynamic in the penalty area.

"She was a leader because of the way she played, that she demanded respect from her opponents and team-mates. She was the first England women's football superstar.

"You have only got to hear the top names in the global game talking about her to know how good she was."

'Dark days'

Earlier in her life while struggling with alcohol addiction, Smith said she had suicidal thoughts.

But she overcame those challenges and a number of serious injuries to flourish towards the end of her playing career, being shortlisted for the 2015 Women's PFA Player's Player of the Year award aged 36.

"I'm now 38, I'm a lot more experienced and I don't use alcohol to get me out of those situations now," she added.

"I'm in a good place, in a good relationship and I'm really happy. I'm really comfortable with my decision to walk away from playing and it's not a tough one for me.

"Perhaps if it wasn't all my injuries I could've achieved a lot more, who knows? But I can't say I have any regrets."

A future England manager?

Kelly Smith
Smith briefly took charge of Arsenal on an interim basis in between Pedro Martinez Losa being named as their new boss and his arrival in September 2015

Smith, who also played in the US for Seton Hall Pirates, Philadelphia Charge and Boston Breakers, took up a player-coach role at Arsenal in 2013.

She has spent the past two full seasons as assistant to manager Pedro Martinez Losa at the Gunners.

"I want to see where my coaching career goes," she said. "I'd love to see how far I can develop as a coach.

"There are goals to manage Arsenal, the club I love, and even England - and who knows?

"But I'm at the bottom of the ladder at the moment so I'm just really looking forward to seeing how I develop."

Players from around the world are expected to take part in a match to celebrate Smith's career, set to be held at Arsenal Ladies' home ground in Borehamwood on 19 February.

'England were lucky to have her'

Kelly Smith
Smith's fine display at Wembley helped Arsenal win a record 14th Women's FA Cup in 2016

England and Manchester City captain Steph Houghton:

"Kelly is one of the best players in the world and someone who inspired me throughout my career. Without doubt, women's football wouldn't be where it is today without her contribution.

"England were very lucky to have her and I was extremely proud to play alongside her."

England manager Mark Sampson:

"She will be remembered as one of the greatest players to have played the game.

"The many thousands of young people who took up the game after being inspired by Kelly will never forget the inspiration and joy she brought just from watching her play.

"It will absolutely be a loss to the game on the field. I hope she will now go on to enjoy a wonderful career off the field."

England and Chelsea midfielder Katie Chapman:

"Kelly, to me, is a player that changed any game. Whether she started or came off the bench, you knew that a goal was coming.

"She is a great talent and a great inspiration, especially for young players. She takes the time out to encourage young players and it is a shame she is retiring, but I am sure she will go on to play an important role in the continued development of women's football."

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