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Monday, March 4, 2024

Chelsea win WSL transfer window; Villa the biggest losers


While the majority of deals done in the women’s game are free transfers, spending almost doubled from £2.6m in 2022 to £4.8m last year. In that period, Manchester United (Geyse) and Arsenal (Kyra Cooney-Cross) broke their transfer records, while the English Women’s Super League (WSL) record was also smashed as Manchester City spent a reported £300,000 to land Netherlands midfielder Jill Roord from Wolfsburg.

But January 2024 has seen the spending slow down — in the men’s game as well — and, in general, there has not been as much excitement as previous years.

That said, Chelsea broke the women’s transfer world record to sign Levante forward Mayra Ramírez for £386,000, while Emily Fox (North Carolina Courage to Arsenal) and Kristie Mewis (Gotham FC to West Ham United) made some interesting moves.

So who did well in the January WSL window? And who struggled? Here is our analysis.

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Winners

Chelsea

Although they only signed two players (as well as letting midfielder Jessie Fleming move to the Portland Thorns FC for around £250,000), Chelsea’s moves for Nathalie Björn and Mayra Ramírez are both long-term signings masquerading as short-term fixes.

There’s no hiding from centre-back Millie Bright‘s struggles with fitness over the past year or so — although the news around her potential return seems to be positive — nor star striker Sam Kerr‘s recent ACL injury. Both Ramírez and Björn are likely to be the building blocks for this Chelsea team moving forward with coach Emma Hayes swift to praise Björn on her debut, likening her to compatriot and former Chelsea captain Magdalena Eriksson.

Able to play multiple positions, Björn’s fast start to life in a Chelsea shirt should stand her in good stead even when Bright returns from injury. Ramírez, similarly, can operate in various roles in attack and isn’t just a replacement for Kerr, but is set to be a key puzzle piece as the attack continues to grow and challenge in European competition. But the deal did cost a world record transfer fee.

Swedish Damallsvenskan players

As expected, the Women’s Super League saw a glut of players arrive from the Swedish top flight: from Australia internationals (Katrina Gorry and Charlotte Grant), to Japan internationals (Saori Takarada and Yuka Momiki), to young Swedes like Matilda Vinberg and Marika Bergman-Lundin.

There will always be a healthy flow of players from Sweden during the winter window, with plenty of free agents on the market and little jeopardy with the Damallsvenskan already wrapped up. The influx of Swedish coaches in Europe only adds to the direction of travel, although Arsenal’s Jonas Eidevall — one of the better examples of a coach who values the qualities instilled in a Swedish football upbringing — didn’t go shopping in Scandinavia.

With Sweden not only home to the next generation of Swedish talent but also to top players young and old from around the world, it’s a market that is likely to be frequented many times by WSL clubs in the future.

Leicester City

After a strong start to the season, the league wins rather dried up for the Foxes but, as he did last season, coach Willie Kirk was quick to use January to strengthen his young squad, targeting two areas that needed strengthening: defence and midfield.

Signed early in the month, Takarada and Momiki have already begun to wrack up the minutes for the Foxes and have looked right at home in the middle of the park. Indeed, in just four appearances, Momiki has already claimed two Player of the Match awards.

As well as their two more-established Japan internationals, Kirk also added to his squad with 19-year-old Emilia Pelgander, as well as bringing Asmita Ale in on loan from Spurs. Although the deals rather pale in comparison to Chelsea, each player will add something to the Leicester squad as they continue to evolve through the season and there can be no denying that the Foxes have had quite the sly window.

Honourable mentions: USWNT defender Emily Fox‘s move to Arsenal, Manchester City‘s investment in youth and Manchester United not losing a goalkeeper (though Mary Earps‘ contract still expires in the summer), and the arrivals at Tottenham and West Ham.

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Could Emily Fox start a trend of USWNT players going to Europe?

Jeff Kassouf discusses Emily Fox’s move to Arsenal and whether it could lead to more USWNT players going to Europe.

Losers

Aston Villa

Villa were never supposed to be that busy this winter, but there is a sense they missed the boat a bit. Although they signed Arsenal full-back Noelle Maritz, coach Carla Ward could have strengthened her defence further as the team are a little shorthanded with injuries and have been notably porous so far this season.

But the biggest blow was the deadline day loss of Laura Blindkilde-Brown; Villa’s best young prospect and a player who’s become a regular over the last year. Manchester City triggered Blindkilde-Brown’s £200,000 release clause early enough that Ward could arrange cover in the loan signing of Miri Taylor from Liverpool, but after a disappointing first half of the season, Villa may well be looking back at this month as a missed opportunity.

Everton

Even before the window opened and both Megan Campbell and Björn departed, there was a concern about Everton’s defence. And with coach Brian Sørensen not adding to the backline, the load on his defenders won’t ease any time soon.

Although the coach was able to bring in two fellow Danes in Rikke Marie Madsen and Katherine Kühl (on loan) and both have already begun to settle on Merseyside, the squad continue to look a little unbalanced. Ninth in the WSL standings, the Toffees become greater than the sum of their parts on the pitch and manage to grind through results, but that model isn’t sustainable.

The points-based system

Whilst Damallsvenskan players are winners, those playing in the neighbouring Norwegian Toppserien fall afoul of the points-based system for work visas used in England. But it’s not just the Norwegian league that isn’t deemed “good enough,” but a rather sizable chunk of domestic leagues and those with international caps from lower-ranked nations.

Indeed, it means that WSL clubs often have to wait for players to join another league in order to gain enough points before they can facilitate a move to England. It ties their hands and stops them being able to unearth an undiscovered gem.

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