In what will be a seven-month stretch without domestic women’s football, interest in the comings and goings at clubs is reaching a new peak. The unpredictability of the effects of Covid-19 has added spice to the current transfer window.
The window opened on 19 June but until the past week the announcements had come in no more than a steady trickle as the pandemic curtailed the ability of clubs to do business. Medicals, photographs and even the signing of a contract have had to be done remotely, externally or delayed.
Some overseas players faced a wait for travel restrictions to be lifted or a 14-day quarantine. For clubs who were waiting on the former, a flurry of signings has begun, particularly now the £1m donation from the Premier League has covered Covid-19 testing throughout pre-season.
For players at the top end little has changed. The budgets of some teams with the backing of big men’s clubs are unlikely to be affected because the numbers are insignificant compared with clubs’ overall operating costs and losses during the pandemic. The WSL’s title-chasing pack, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City, have made early moves.
Arsenal have taken their Australian contingent to three with the recruitment of the versatile left-back Steph Catley and the goalkeeper Lydia Williams from Melbourne City, after Caitlin Foord was signed in January. The 19-year-old midfielder Malin Gut has joined her Switzerland teammate Lia Wälti at the club.
Chelsea, who signed Australia’s captain, Sam Kerr, in January, have brought in the midfielder Melanie Leupolz from Bayern Munich, Niamh Charles from relegated Liverpool and the Arsenal youngster Silvana Flores.
Gareth Taylor’s first signing as the Manchester City manager was the 22-year-old Chloe Kelly from Everton after the former Arsenal player scored nine goals from the wing in the curtailed 2019-20 season. City are also the likely destination for the England full-backs Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood, who will be out of contract at Lyon at the end of August after signing two-month extensions to cover the Champions League.
The re-recruitment of Bronze, Europe’s player of the year, would be a coup for City, who have struggled to find a suitable replacement for the right-back since she left for the French heavyweights.
It would also hint at a welcome shift from a trend that has become a little too familiar to City fans, who have watched their young English talent poached by Lyon (Bronze, Nikita Parris and Izzy Christiansen).
The concern for City and other clubs looking to recruit from the best teams in Europe will be the tight turnaround between the remaining Champions League fixtures, to be concluded in Bilbao and San Sebastián on 31 August, and the start of the WSL season on the weekend of 5-6 September.
Integrating two experienced England internationals should be relatively straightforward for City, given the majority of their team make up the core of Phil Neville’s squad.
Further down, the signings begin to dry up. Budgets could be a problem. With some tied to the success of the men’s team, until the Premier League season is over there is only so much business clubs can do. The cost of the pandemic beyond testing, such as preparing facilities and providing PPE, is an unexpected burden that could also hit transfers.
Reading, Tottenham and managerless Birmingham are yet to make any additions but it is unlikely the ambition to sign big and push up the table will have waned.
Manchester United, Everton and West Ham have all signed players, with the England midfielder Lucy Staniforth arriving at United from Birmingham, the Norwegian Ingrid Moe Wold and Bristol City’s Poppy Pattinson moving to Everton, the Australian goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold and the former Reading defender Maz Pacheco joining West Ham.
Aston Villa have extended deals for 13 of their Championship winners and added some WSL experience in the Chelsea defender Anita Asante and Birmingham’s Chloe Arthur.
European leagues stand to benefit from the rejigged US calendar. The usual port of call is Australia’s W-League, which runs back to back with the normal NWSL season. However, the Challenge Cup means players will likely seek a European stopgap. That would once have been a tasty proposition for any WSL side; now, though, with more at stake, losing important players in January is less attractive. Whatever happens, a shaken-up transfer market is helping to plug the gap.