It has been a quiet January transfer window in the men’s game, but the Women’s Super League (WSL) clubs have spent significant money.
Two teams who normally do their business in the summer — Chelsea and Manchester City — were the most active, with the former breaking the world transfer record for the second time in their history (after buying Wolfsburg midfielder Pernille Harder for a reported £250,000 in 2020).
Meanwhile, Arsenal have been relatively quiet despite having had past success at using the mid-season window to integrate players slowly.
But what have we learned from the past four weeks and what does this tell us about what’s to come in summer?
If you need to buy now, you will have to pay the right price
Chelsea and City have been the fastest movers, both of whom had key players, striker Sam Kerr and midfielder Jill Roord, suffer season-ending anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries last month.
In Kerr’s absence, Chelsea paid a world-record fee — a deal amounting to €450,000 fixed (£380,000, $485,000) plus a further €50,000 in variable amounts based on objectives that the club expects to be met — for Colombian international Mayra Ramirez. The 24-year-old forward has a release clause worth half a million euros.
In Roord’s absence, and given City’s already small squad of 21, they the flexibility to bring in another three players. The most notable arrival was the signing of 20-year-old Laura Blindkilde Brown on deadline day.
Like Chelsea, City ended up paying the former Aston Villa midfielder’s release clause of £200,000, potentially making her the third-most expensive English female footballer.
The other of Chelsea’s January recruits was Everton’s Nathalie Bjorn. With captain Millie Bright a long-term absentee with an ongoing knee injury and two of Chelsea’s defensive unit — Canada internationals Ashley Lawrence and Kadeisha Buchanan — due to head off to the Gold Cup this month, Chelsea needed defensive cover.
Bjorn, 26, had been a long-term target of Real Madrid but they were unwilling to pay her full release clause, aware that her contract expired at the end of the season. Consequently, Chelsea swooped in and offered the amount Everton were asking for and she has made a strong start to life in west London.
As contract lengths have increased, clubs are using release clauses to balance their needs with that of their players. Now, more than ever, it is feasible to go and buy a player who is currently in contract but chances are you will have to spend six figures to do so.
The temptation to wait for contracts to expire remains
Entering this transfer window, all eyes were on Manchester United and England No 1 Mary Earps. The 30-year-old 2023 FIFA Best goalkeeper was the subject of a big bid from Arsenal in the summer with only six months now remaining on Earps’ contract.
However, with Arsenal first-choice goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger signing a new contract (extension length unconfirmed), the north London club showed no signs of testing United’s resilience again. Instead, they signed 37-year-old former Lyon goalkeeper and eight-time Champions League winner Sarah Bouhaddi on a short-term deal to cover the absence of their second-choice goalkeeper, Canada international Sabrina D’Angelo, as she leaves to take part in the Gold Cup this month.
United are still in negotiations with Earps over a new contract but it seems like if she is going to go anywhere, clubs are willing to wait until the summer to get the deal done.
City goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck will be available on a free transfer in the summer. The 24-year-old has not made a single start for City this season, with manager Gareth Taylor preferring 19-year-old Lioness Khiara Keating in goal. Roebuck has attracted interest from Barcelona but looks set to continue sitting on the bench until her deal runs down.
Several high-profile players’ contracts expire this summer, including Barcelona midfielder Alexia Putellas, City midfielder Lauren Hemp and Chelsea forward Fran Kirby. Given the quality of players available on free transfers, clubs are happy to wait and risk competing against other clubs when players become available in the summer.
NWSL begins to attract more European players
Some of the biggest January transfers have been from Europe to the NWSL as the mingling intensifies between these two leagues.
In 2021, former Manchester United manager Casey Stoney joined San Diego Wave. In 2022, Juan Amoros, the former Tottenham Hotspur and Betis manager, joined Houston Dash and then went on to lead NJ/NY Gotham to their first NWSL Championship in 2023.
With Barcelona manager Jonatan Giraldez heading to Washington Spirit and Chelsea manager Emma Hayes managing the USWNT at the end of the season, the siloing of the two continents is coming to an end.
Deyna Castellanos has gone on loan to Bay FC from City, Chelsea midfielder Jessie Fleming is heading to Portland Thorns, Maxi Rall has gone on loan from Bayern Munich to Chicago Red Stars and Felicitas Rauch has gone on loan from Wolsfburg to North Carolina Courage this window. Barcelona forward and Nigeria international Asisat Oshoala is rumoured to be joining them.
Asked why a move to the NWSL was right for her at this time, Fleming told The Athletic, “When I look at the different leagues around the world, they all have their advantages and disadvantages. I have followed the NWSL, as a fan, over the last couple of years and it’s crazy how competitive the league is — the results can go any way from week to week.
“There’s so many good players in the league and Portland that I’m excited to play with and against. I love Chelsea and my teammates, and I took so much learning away from that experience. But this felt like a good opportunity, at the right time, to play a bigger, more consistent role within a club, and to continue to grow my game.”
European teams are making the most of the NWSL market. Fleming, 25, has attracted a hefty fee which has worked out well for Chelsea given she had only made six starts so far this season and was clearly seen as a squad player. But it might not be long until bigger, more important names also start heading across the Atlantic.
However, the pull still works the other way round. USWNT defender Emily Fox’s signing for Arsenal was one of the best moves last month — she’s already looking at ease in the WSL. The opportunity for players from Europe and America to try out life on the other side of the world looks to be becoming a more and more attractive one with every passing window.
(Top photo: Daniela Porcelli/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)
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