Jessy Parker-Humphreys looks at the Women’s Super League transfer window, with 30 international players having moved to the league so far…
There’s a song in Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s hit musical Evita where the narrator sings “And the money kept rolling in”. It’s been hard to observe the Women’s Super League transfer market this summer and not have that playing in the back of your head – the word ‘money’ replaced with ‘players’.
Thirty international transfers have taken place over the past few months, with the number looking set to rise. More than the volume of transfers, the calibre of players arriving has been something to behold. From World Cup winners to world-class youth talent, never before have players flocked so uniformly to the English league.
To some extent, it is a result of circumstance.
The influx of players from American teams is a direct consequence of the NWSL’s lack of plan for future matches. Short-term loans to England have been the solution for many players based in the US hoping to get game time before the end of the year. Deals like Alanna Kennedy and Shelina Zadorsky moving to Tottenham are only set to run until the end of 2020.
Yet there is evidence that some of these moves might be longer term. Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle are both reported to have signed one-year contracts with options for longer at Manchester City, with their previous NWSL clubs retaining their rights if they were to return to play club football in the USA.
Before even the American arrivals though, the international arrivals had been landing. The Australian invasion which began last season with the arrivals of Sam Kerr (Chelsea), Caitlin Foord (Arsenal) and Hayley Raso (Everton) continued. Arsenal added Steph Catley and Lydia Williams to their squad, as Bristol City signed Ella Mastrantonio and West Ham acquired MacKenzie Arnold.
European players, who have long been the preserve of the top-three teams in the WSL, also started to filter in further down the table. Everton showed their competitive intent by signing highly-rated French striker Valerie Gauvin while newly-promoted Aston Villa acquired prolific Portuguese talent Diana Silva.
The decision to up sticks and move to the WSL this season has been a global phenomenon.
The reason behind it for many players was hinted at by incoming England manager, Sarina Wiegman. In her debut press conference, she pointed to the excellent facilities that many WSL teams use as evidence of the high-quality game in England.
WSL clubs increasingly share training facilities with their men’s equivalents. This gives them opportunities to train at the highest level with access to strength and conditioning coaches, sport psychologists, and data analysts among others. Players are offered full-time contracts with many clubs also now actively working to sort housing.
While the extent of these bonuses might vary between teams, most will outstrip the vast majority seen across the global women’s game. For international players, it is clearly an environment in which they can expect to significantly develop their game.
This has also been evidenced by the success of the international players already here. The strong Dutch contingent at Arsenal, made up of Vivianne Miedema and Danielle van de Donk among others, have seen club achievement coincide with significant national achievement. Meanwhile, the landmark signing of Sam Kerr at Chelsea brought a truly global superstar to the WSL for the first time since Carli Lloyd was at Manchester City in 2017.
The worry is that these signings will only serve to stratify the WSL further. The top three of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City have been firmly ensconced for over five years now. These clubs clearly have far greater resources to entice players – Kerr is reportedly paid between £300,000 and £450,000 a year. Meanwhile, players in clubs towards the bottom end of the WSL can be forced to top up their ‘full-time’ wages with second jobs.
However, it has not only been at the top where teams have strengthened with international talent. Reading have taken Wales international Jess Fishlock on loan from OL Reign, while Manchester United are rumoured to be closing in on deals for World Cup winners Christen Press and Tobin Heath.
In fact, it tends to be English talent that the smaller teams struggle to hold on to. At the start of this season, fourteen players from Phil Neville’s 2020 SheBelieves Cup squad will play for Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester City. Just four squad players will feature for teams in the rest of the league – Everton (1), Manchester United (2), West Ham (1). Being able to attract strong international talent might help smaller teams bridge the gap when their talented English players are siphoned off.
The commercial benefits of the WSL becoming a more international league will serve everyone well. The Premier League has generated eye-watering amounts of revenue from global television deals, in part as a result of the mixture of nationalities who participate in it. While the WSL is clearly a long way off money like that, an audience growing worldwide is obviously a net positive.
It is also an audience that will grow domestically. The global stature of a number of the new signings has led to a flurry of media coverage which will translate into increased fan interest. There is a sense of a league filled with quality football players. Many people know that has always been the case – but the profile of the signings has led to a renewed focus on the WSL. If their performances live up to the hype, it could be a match made in heaven.
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph