The biggest factor stopping club announcements is, of course, the travel issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Women’s football in England is slowly but surely coming back to some sort of normality. Most FA Women’s Super League and FA Women’s Championship teams will be returning to training in the next couple of weeks, with Manchester City set to return as early as Monday after their players were in for a first round of COVID-19 testing at the end of last week.
While new signing Chloe Kelly will be able to join them after signing on Friday, fellow soon-to-be new arrivals Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood won’t arrive until Olympique Lyon’s Champions League campaign ends in August.
It is one of several factors the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on the women’s game with most clubs now out of sync with their male counterparts.
With the Champions League now set to end on August 31, it means any clubs buying from any of the remaining eight teams won’t see their new signings until at most five days before the new domestic season.
For a new manager in his first women’s game job, not having Bronze or Greenwood for 99 percent of the preseason is hardly ideal for Gareth Taylor, but most managers around the leagues are facing a whole host of issues when it comes to the transfer window.
There was some concern the financial hit from the pandemic would affect the women’s game more than most, but the majority of clubs have got on with their business even earlier than usual due to a lack of games, but many fans are asking why there has so far been so few announcements.
Only Bristol City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Aston Villa, and Manchester City have announced new signings so far, with even the majority of those being announced in the last seven days.
For Kelly, the quick drive from Liverpool to Manchester proved little issue, nor did Chloe Arthur’s move from one side of Birmingham to the other. Bristol City chose to announce their first two signings without either having a full presentation, but most clubs are holding off on formal announcements for several reasons.
Our Game Magazine understands the majority of clubs are well on with their business and on the flip sides, most agents believe 80–90 percent of their clients have already agreed to deals for the new season, with just formal announcements pending.
The biggest factor stopping such announcements is, of course, the travel issues brought on by the pandemic.
With more and more FA WSL clubs going abroad for their recruitment, some players are struggling to get flights into the country, and those that do face a 14-day quarantine.
New Bristol City signing Ella Mastrantonio is currently in quarantine after arriving from Australia on Thursday, while new Arsenal signing Steph Catley will have to do the same if she flies into London this week.
Arsenal were one of a few teams to push on with announcements despite players not being in the country, so much so the club used a freelance photographer in Melbourne to get all the necessary images of their new left back.
With several clubs, including Everton and Manchester United, expecting arrivals from overseas, some clubs are happy to sit back, wait, and do a proper announcement once the players are able to fly to England.
Some agents expect a flurry of announcements once the quarantine rules change on Friday. Before then, anyone arriving will have to quarantine for 14 days, but after that, anyone arriving from more than 60 designated countries can head straight to their new homes for pictures, interviews, and most importantly, to put pen on paper.
Further down the leagues, rumors suggest Tottenham, West Ham, and Reading are all well on with transfer business, and even the noises out of Birmingham City suggest things are not as bad as things look from the outside.
Left backs and goalkeepers are particularly prevalent this summer, and while Greenwood and Catley may be sealed, the likes of Poppy Pattinson, Maz Pacheco, Kerys Harrop, Emma Mitchell, and Jemma Purfield are available, though at least two have signed with new clubs.
In goal, Arsenal is pursuing a new shot stopper and should confirm their new arrival this week, while Chelsea is also keen on a goalkeeper to come in to provide backup for Ann-Katrin Berger and Carly Telford. Tottenham, West Ham, Reading, Birmingham City, and Bristol City are all looking for goalkeepers too, with the likes of Aurora Mikaelsen, Kirstie Levell, Rachael Laws, and Alex Brooks all on the market, though some clubs are looking abroad for goalkeepers.
But for those clubs prioritizing homegrown talent and an array of FA WSL players released over the past month, there are several clubs fighting for the same targets. It’s not, therefore, just travel that is causing problems — those looking at players from within the league are facing other issues.
Some clubs don’t yet have set budgets. Some clubs have a set budget year in, year out while others depend on the performances of their men’s team. With many still fighting for European spots, to be either promoted or avoid relegation, some clubs may see more money open up over the coming weeks, allowing them to be bolder in the transfer market.
Even with deals in place, clubs may be in a position to up a player’s wage or add extra bonuses to pre-existing contracts, something that is usually set in stone by the time the transfer window comes along.
Clubs now also have to factor in extra costs for personal protective equipment (PPE) and taking other precautions that will enable a safe return to training over the coming weeks.
One club outside of Europe has had four deals agreed to for more than three weeks but can’t have said players in for a medical exams until later this week, hence a delay in being able to announce any of them despite deals being agreed to in principle.
Delays are also being put in place due to new kit manufacturer deals. With the men’s season still ongoing, a lot of clubs are yet to release new kits for the new season, so women’s teams are left waiting for their clubs to sign off on commercial contracts or announce new players in out-of-date kits and training gear.
But most people around the league believe travel is the biggest factor, with even local lockdowns now stopping players traveling in or out of certain parts of the country. For those coming from abroad, things will start to move over the next week or so and most believe there will be a spate of announcements over the next few weeks.
One other factor that could come into play down the line is the end of the NWSL Challenge Cup, which will come to an end this month.
With many players then left without regular football until next year, there’s a feeling many players will look to Europe for short-term loans before returning to the United States for preseason in 2021.
That feeling isn’t necessarily reciprocated in Europe itself though. While clubs are of course interested in players from across the pond, clubs aren’t holding back budget and would prefer to have permanent squad members in place rather than rely on short-term loans that would then leave them with holes in their squad come February.
It may have been a slow start to the transfer window, but there’s no doubt it sounds like things will really heat up over the coming weeks.