There are very few transfers that are celebrated by fans across a whole division. But the move of Bethany England from Chelsea to Tottenham at the start of the Women’s Super League’s January transfer window is a deal that has been a long time coming.
England had become part of the furniture at Chelsea. She’d been there since 2016 and had won every domestic trophy with the club, but the 28-year-old had never managed an extended run as Emma Hayes’ first-choice forward. There was something “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” about the No 9’s time in west London.
Now, the striker gets a much-needed fresh start and at some price too, with Spurs reported to be paying a £250,000 fee — a record between WSL clubs.
Chelsea fans are sad to see her go, Tottenham fans are excited for her arrival and neutrals are looking forward to seeing good talent not wasting away on a bench. But it remains to be seen the real impact that England could have on a team that is struggling in the WSL.
The 2019-20 season was England’s breakout year when she stepped into Chelsea’s main forward role in the absence of Fran Kirby, who was battling injury and illness. England had played alongside Kirby in the previous season and scored 12 goals in just 12 starts in the WSL, but it was the 2019-20 campaign where she thrived.
England took her chance with both hands and scored 21 goals in all competitions in a COVID-19-impacted season. She was second in the top goalscorer charts, just behind Vivianne Miedema, and had also made it into England’s senior squad under Phil Neville. But in January of 2020, Sam Kerr arrived and the Australian superstar’s slow start eventually turned into back-to-back WSL Golden Boots, in 2020-21 and 2021-22, and she is now one of the first names on the team sheet.
Since Kerr’s arrival, England had unsurprisingly been Hayes’ second choice and has had to rely on substitute and cup appearances over the past two seasons. England signed a new four-year deal back in the summer of 2020 but as time went on it seemed like she would have to move elsewhere to get game time.
As she slipped out of the Chelsea starting line-up she drifted from England’s plans too, just about making the squad for Euro 2022 but not playing a single minute in the tournament and dropping out of the squad afterwards. As Sarina Wiegman searches for Ellen White’s replacement, there is no better time for England to be looking for game time.
A move has finally materialised this window and England arrives at a team that are in desperate need of goals.
On the surface, it seems like a perfect scenario for all involved. A proven WSL goalscorer is matched with a team crying out for a consistent, experienced forward. However, there’s one thing lurking in the background that will worry England — will she actually get any chances?
Spurs couldn’t have headed into the Christmas break in worse form. They’re currently 8th in the table and have lost their last four league games. Outside of a staggering 8-0 victory over Brighton at the end of October, Spurs have scored just three goals — only Everton and Leicester have scored fewer.
Spurs have the third-worst total xG in the league and the fourth-worst xG per 90 minutes. Only Reading (10th), Everton (6th) and Leicester (12th, without a point) are worse off than Spurs when it comes to chances.
Tottenham’s attacking play leaves a lot to be desired and if England is going to get goals for this team she’s going to need chances. She’s a traditional No 9, occupying the penalty box, picking off chances, providing threat in the air and working to link-up play. She can play up top on her own or in a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3.
Spurs rely heavily on counter-attacking opportunities, with England’s former Chelsea team-mate Drew Spence pressing the ball in midfield and trying to force turnovers. Spurs often look to break quickly with winger Ashleigh Neville, who has been one of the team’s best players over the last year, but the team lacks quality when they do win the ball — especially when it comes to crosses and passes into the box.
This deal is a marker for Spurs; another sign, after a busy summer transfer window, that they want to push on in the WSL and cement themselves in the top six and potentially one day join Manchester United in the quest for Europe. But while United, who came up the same year as Spurs, are regularly challenging the WSL’s Big Three, Spurs seem to be drifting without a clear game plan or sense of footballing identity.
This transfer could be the anchor that gives them a much-needed sense of direction.
(Top photo: Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)
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