Colombia international Mayra Ramirez hit the headlines in January after Chelsea announced they had secured her on a four-and-a-half-year contract from Levante in a world-record deal.
Levante, who play in Spain’s Liga F, say the deal amounts to €450,000 (£385,000) fixed, plus a further €50,000 in variable amounts based on performance objectives, such as Ramirez playing 30 per cent of Chelsea’s matches.
The total fee (about £426,000) surpasses the then-world-record £400,000 Barcelona paid to sign England midfielder Keira Walsh from Manchester City in September 2022.
Ramirez, who made her Women’s Super League (WSL) debut as a 67th-minute substitute against Brighton & Hove Albion a week ago, made her first start for Chelsea this weekend against Everton.
On The Athletic’s women’s football podcast, Full Time Europe, Charlotte Harpur and South American soccer writer Felipe Cardenas spoke with Sophie Penney to explain who Ramirez is, why Chelsea spent so much and the impact of the signing in Colombia and the WSL.
Listen in full to the episode below, on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, or read the edited conversation below…
Sophie Penney: What were your reactions to the deal?
Charlotte Harpur: I wasn’t disappointed, but I wasn’t blown away. It’s a fun signing and it confirms some thoughts about Chelsea’s squad…
Felipe Cardenas: I am Colombian, so I was very happy and proud of this milestone in women’s football. The fee makes you realise the reality of women’s football is moving forward. It’s a big signing and a sign of what’s to come.
Penney: What can you tell us about the deal?
Harpur: Chelsea paid €450,000 as a fixed fee, with a further €50,000 in performance-based add-ons — including Ramirez playing 30 per cent of Chelsea’s matches, which Levante are confident will be met.
Chelsea recently sold midfielder Jessie Fleming to NWSL side Portland Thorns for around £250,000, which helped them fund the deal for Ramirez.
Penney: Did the deal transpire because of Sam Kerr’s anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury or was it just accelerated?
Cardenas: Ramirez and her Levante team-mate Alba Redondo, another forward, had been on Chelsea’s radar for the last few years, but the deal was definitely accelerated by Kerr’s injury. Chelsea needed cover and depth in attack.
The contract length is interesting. It’s a signing for Chelsea’s long-term future and a post-Hayes era.
Penney: What can you tell us about Ramirez?
Cardenas: She’s very well-known after her Women’s World Cup appearances last summer. Ramirez helped Colombia progress to the quarter-final against England, where they lost 2-1. That was a massive story in Colombia. Their women’s team is seen as holding a ‘golden generation’ of players because they were so competitive in Australia. Ramirez was a big part of that.
This describes her career — she’s never been a star, but she is always a key contributor to every team.
Ramirez started playing professionally at 16, which is typical in Colombia and South America. The women’s first division (the Liga Femenina) only began in 2017.
A lot of the first-division players were teenagers, including Ramirez, who was playing for Independiente Medellin, who, on the men’s side, are one of the most well-known teams in Colombia.
Ramirez wasn’t a star on that team, but she scored goals and was a relentless worker. That’s what got her to Europe and defined her in Spain. That’s what Chelsea fans are really going to like about her — she is incredibly hard-working.
She’s the type of centre-forward I would hate to play against because she doesn’t quit for 90 minutes.
Penney: What is Ramirez’s style of play?
Cardenas: Like a lot of boys and girls in Colombia, Ramirez grew up playing futsal. It’s very popular in South America and how a lot of kids are introduced to football.
In futsal, the ball is heavier and smaller and you play on a hard-floor pitch the size of a basketball court. It helps players develop control in tight areas, dribbling and one- or two-touch passes.
Ramirez has the physical attributes to be a good No 9. She can stay up top and be a target. But her footwork surprises a lot of people — she can turn on you very quickly. Ramirez finds space to shoot and create opportunities around the box, and is comfortable playing on either wing.
She’s not a static No 9, so you have to be aware of her at all times. She wants to be on the ball and play. If Hayes moves her around the front three, she can do a lot of damage. I’m interested to see how WSL defenders cope with her style of play.
Penney: How do you think she will fit into Chelsea’s front line?
Harpur: Her primary job is to fill that No 9 role as Kerr’s replacement. Without Kerr, Hayes has used a combination of Fran Kirby and Lauren James but Ramirez is a good striker and gets into good shooting positions.
She scored 20 goals from an xG (expected goals) of 15.2 since joining Levante, so has been converting lower-probability shots into more goals. When taking shots, her distance from goal is very short, which is a sign that she gets into good goalscoring positions.
I expect Chelsea to operate as they have been, and Ramirez to come in and convert.
Ramirez isn’t too active defensively. I don’t expect her to drop deep and help progress play. She’ll want to cause centre-backs problems, get in the box and pounce on loose balls and crosses.
One thing to be aware of is the language barrier (Ramirez doesn’t speak English). Hayes speaks Spanish and she’s there for the next four months. Goalkeeper Hannah Hampton, who signed for Chelsea last summer, spent five years at Villarreal from the ages of five to 10 so she will be helpful too.
USWNT forward Mia Fishel isn’t quite up to scratch yet. The 22-year-old had been expected by some to take the No 9 position but she’s been an understudy. The plan all along was to give her time.
Kirby’s contract is up this summer. She used to play as No 9 but has filled in more as a No 10 for England and Chelsea. USWNT forward Catarina Macario is coming back from injury too.
But Hayes playing Ramirez straight away (in the first possible game after her signing was announced) is a statement of intent from the manager that they need a goalscorer.
Penney: Why do you think Chelsea broke the world record to sign her?
Harpur: Chelsea needed a decent replacement quickly and Levante needed cash. In December, their CEO, Jose Danvila, said the club has a debt of €107million (£91m) so the priority was to get their men’s first team back into the top flight (they are eighth in the Segunda Division), and they also announced they were cutting the women’s team budget.
So when Chelsea say, ‘We need a striker, Ramirez is our ideal candidate’, Levante know Chelsea have money so they can demand a big fee. Ramirez wouldn’t necessarily warrant a world-record fee otherwise.
Walsh’s fee was understandable. She had just won the 2022 European Championship, everyone was talking about her performances. If you needed a deep-lying midfielder, she was number one on your list.
But if you think about getting the number one striker, Ramirez doesn’t spring to mind. Maybe it’s savvy from Chelsea — they scout proactively to find marginal gains so maybe Ramirez is their hidden gem.
Cardenas: I was surprised that Ramirez has made history as the most expensive signing. You’d think a world-record fee would go to a league title-holder or a FIFA Best nominee/winner.
Penney: Is this big spend part of the Chelsea mindset? Their men’s team have spent more than £1billion on transfers since their owners took over in May 2022.
Harpur: If you’re spending a billion on your men’s side, £400,000 is small in comparison. If it’s going to keep Chelsea at the top of the WSL and improve their Champions League chances, why wouldn’t you spend that?
Cardenas: Over the last few years, I’ve met more women’s football agents who represent South American and, specifically, Colombian players. They tell me that they have a goal to get good players out of their domestic leagues.
It’s great to grow the South American leagues, and now there’s more commitment from sponsors in these countries, but the agents feel that European and NWSL teams don’t know the quality of players that are waiting to be scouted. Ramirez isn’t a superstar but this will open doors for more South American players going to bigger international leagues.
Penney: What impact do you think Ramirez’s signing will have on Colombian football?
Cardenas: The impact will be significant and we can look at how the Colombian press covered this — it was front-page news covered by top sports journalists.
The Colombia women’s national team are progressive in terms of their player transfers. They have Leicy Santos at Atletico Madrid, forward Linda Caicedo is at Real Madrid and other players are in Spain. Colombia can produce big players.
Harpur: I spoke to Caicedo last year. She is 18 and wants to inspire girls to play because they don’t have the same pathways as boys into professional football. When you see female footballers committing to being professionals, and then they make it to the highest leagues in the world, that’s going to convince people in Colombia that it’s worth supporting.
Penney: But Ramirez has received some negative responses to her transfer news, tell us about that.
Cardenas: There were some posts abusing Ramirez based on her appearance and it goes to show what players are subjecting themselves to every day, especially women and women of colour.
There is a tone in South American social media about football. Commentators try and run their best jokes at the expense of players or coaches. There were very few comments about her tactical knowledge as a player.
Penney: How do we think she’s going to score her first goal?
Cardenas: It’s going to be a header into the ground. Her aerial technique is polished and she is a fearless player in the box. She just needs the service from the wings.
Harpur: A close-range strike, maybe a tap-in to get the job done!
(Top photo: Harriet Lander – Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
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