logo of The FA

FA Dispatch: FA WSL at Year’s End

Tidbits from the England Women’s National Team, the FA Women’s Super Leagues (FA WSL), and behind-the-scenes looks into women’s football in England, both on and off the field.

Oh So Quiet in FA WSL 1

By Christmas last year, much business had been done in the FA WSL but it’s all surprisingly quiet so far as 2016 comes to a rather silent end – unless you’re Chelsea. Emma Hayes knew before the season had ended that new recruits were needed and she hasn’t messed around in bringing them in.

While Chelsea isn’t quite as stacked as their rivals over in North London, the additions of Norway captain Maren Mjelde, Swiss striker Ramona Bachmann, and Scottish sensation Erin Cuthbert do raise questions about the futures of some Chelsea players. They haven’t yet stretched the boundaries of the non-EU player rules as Bachmann does class as an EU player, but Ji So-Yun’s future could still be up for debate post-Spring Series.

Hayes has been very open about the fact one more international signing will join in the New Year and youngsters like Jodie Brett and Millie Farrow are once again expected to go on loan, though the club aims to keep both in the long run.

After a boastful start to the winter which saw Kim Little rejoin Arsenal, the Gunners have been surprisingly quiet on the incoming front as they continue to tailor their squad down. A center back is a must with Casey Stoney and Josephine Henning departing but there has been no concrete announcement on the futures of Emma Byrne, Rachel Yankey, and Kelly Smith.

The champions have also been eerily quiet. Head coach Nick Cushing is said to be keen on bringing a new striker to the club but Man City have already done good business by tying down key players to new contracts in recent months. You can’t sit still in football so it would be fanciful to think City’s squad will be the same as it is now when they host Fortuna Hjørring in their first competitive match of 2017 in March.

Elsewhere, there’s much talking and little doing going on in the bottom half of the league. Clubs have plenty of players out of contract and agents are talking to clubs about their clients, but there’s little rush with the FA WSL 1 Spring Series not starting until April. One source told me last week that Sunderland had rejected a bid for Beth Mead while Ellen White’s representatives are said to be talking to other clubs with her Notts contract running down – Jade Moore and Jo Potter could yet be Reading bound with the Royals clearing their squad out early doors.

FA WSL 2 and Spring Series

In FA WSL 2, Doncaster Belles are expecting the revolving door to begin soon, as are fellow Yorkshire side Sheffield. This year’s WSL newcomers are confident one deal is already done for a very good signing but also expect to lose a player to the Belles in the New Year.

2017 newcomers Brighton are having a tougher time of it and have decided after a lengthy interview process to stick with interim coach George Parris for the time being. Several managers including Keith Boanas and Luke Swindlehurst thought they had the position at various points but for different reasons neither eventually got the job.

Several people high up at various clubs believed the Spring Series fixtures would be released last Friday but The FA are determined to get it right for all clubs before release. Some WSL 2 clubs didn’t fully agree to their schedules so it’s now likely fixtures won’t be released to media and the public until the New Year. Frustrating for fans, but a positive that plenty of work is being put into getting it right.

People Love to Talk in the Winter

The FA WSL never fails to surprise and the surprise announcement regarding David Parker’s future caught everyone out on Monday afternoon. I had a good relationship with David and I’m sure he’ll walk into another WSL 1 job when one becomes available. The ex-Birmingham manager contacted me on Saturday but sadly I was at a game in the Football League and wasn’t able to discuss his news with him, sadly leaving me as blissfully unaware as everyone else when the news broke after the weekend was over.

Agents also like to talk at this time of year, one liaison for an agency contacted me on Tuesday afternoon to see if any WSL 1 clubs are in need of a Japanese defender and as much as I like to try and help out, it can be awkward for a journalist to start contacting managers about players when it’s my job to ask about signings – not recommend them!

It’s also hard to know who to believe; though I don’t cover the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), I couldn’t resist digging my heels into the Alex Morgan goings on and spoke to three different overseas sources last weekend to find out what was going. One said they didn’t believe it was going on, one said they weren’t sure, and one said they thought it could happen. Nothing like a bit of clarity! But I did speak to another well-placed source who said they believe Morgan will soon be an Olympique Lyon player.

All the big moves tend to be circling around Division 1 Féminine at the moment. Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) is bringing Amandine Henry back to France temporarily while Canadian duo Ashley Lawrence and Kadeisha Buchanan are rumored to be heading to France as well with PSG and Lyon respectively. Along with Morgan, Crystal Dunn could be headed to France if the attacker resists temptations from England but where does that leave Swedish sensation Stina Blackstenius? With Lyon and PSG seemingly looking elsewhere and her Linköpings FC teammate Pernille Harder heading to Wolfsburg, could an FA WSL side lure Blackstenius to England? Wendie Renard is another interesting name to watch, rumours suggest the world class defender could leave Lyon when her contract runs down in the summer and FA WSL clubs will almost certainly be keen to bring her to England.

Happy Christmas

Either way, it’s been another fantastic year to cover the FA WSL and with the schedule changes, a European Championship and a Champions League final to be held in the UK, 2017 should be another belter. Once again I’ve come across some incredible people this year, met new supporters, players and staff and as this is my final pre-Christmas column, I hope everyone has a happy, festive period and I’ll see you in 2017.