Tottenham have signed USA star Alex Morgan, Lucy Bronze has returned to Manchester City and Pernille Harder joins Sam Kerr at Chelsea making England’s FAWSL suddenly the biggest league in women’s football.
Although this has seemingly occurred in a few weeks, the league has been building steadily and a combination of forward planning and good luck have helped create a season of club football of unprecedented quality.
Changes to the salary cap
The launch of the Women’s Super League in 2011 introduced a hard salary cap to each club and the eight teams competing were limited to paying only four players more than $20,000 a year. Determined to avoid overspending and making teams financially unviable this made the league a less attractive proposition for players to forge a career such as Arsenal great Kim Little, who found better opportunities in the NWSL and the W-League across the early years of the new competition.
From 2014 the cap changed to a Soft Salary Cap, each club can now invest 40% of annual turnover into player wages or signing fees, with the remaining 60% to be used for facilities, marketing and other expenses. Parent clubs are allowed to invest in the women’s team and subsequently increase turnover and although this has given an advantage to clubs with Premier League affiliations, it has resulted in some big names finding the new opportunities in England. There are no current plans to make any changes to the salary cap but even without removing it, WSL clubs enjoy more flexibility and a competitive edge over leagues with a firm cap on wages.
Club Recognition And Profile
Football, for all its dollars and dealings, its tactics and philosophies is as it has always been, an emotional game. The names Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea carry with them prestige and glamour, but also a large potential fan base.
When Steph Catley signed for Arsenal, one of the most heartwarming images was of her grandfather celebrating in his Arsenal shirt, the 97 year old was clearly thrilled to support his granddaughter at the club he had supported his whole life.
Although there were clearly footballing reasons for Catley to join Arsenal, there remains something special about playing with the club your family supported for years.
As admirable the success of the U.S league has been, these are largely new teams, building their own traditions. Even for a World Cup winner like Tobin Heath, the lure of the Manchester United shirt must have some appeal.
These clubs have been the biggest names and brands in football, with the widest global reach and players joining any of them would be keen to take advantage of the stage that provides. Sam Kerr at Perth was the best scorer of all time, Sam Kerr at Chelsea has the opportunity to be the biggest name in women’s football and maybe get a chance at that overdue FIFA recognition.
Full length season
The W-League has been of exceptional and improving quality for years, and the synergy with the NWSL fixtures, made it possible to see the best Australian and some of the best players of North American every season.
However, when combined with the international tournaments and friendly matches, the calendar for a professional footballer would be one endless games and no opportunities for rest, recovery and preparation.
When Lydia Williams arrived in London, she made special mention that it would be her first chance to really settle at a club properly, “You have to change styles of play between clubs, be comfortable with travel and this will be the first time I will have a pre-season in six years.” She told The Age
“It is different, but not in a bad way. I just want to be in one spot playing at one club.”
The fact that players also have an off-season also gives them a chance to properly prepare for each new year, “I haven't actually done a pre-season for a long, long time.” Sam Kerr told the Chelsea Website, “I can't remember the last one I've done as I used to go from the US straight to Australia to play, but it's been really good.”
It might be fun for fans to watch our favourite players all year round, but the English calendar will hopefully prolong their careers and benefit everybody.
The COVID situation
The NWSL should be applauded for finding ways to keep football running during the Covid19 crisis through their shorter tournaments like the Challenge Cup and the current Fall Series, they were the first sporting competition to kick off in the U.S and have maintained admirable playing and safety standards.
However, with Megan Rapinoe sitting out the season all together, the moves to England by players like Alex Morgan and Emily van Egmond from U.S teams are unsurprising.
These are elite international players, given the opportunity to return to the field under slightly more normal conditions (at the time of writing) and star in what is quickly becoming the most high profile league in the world, in the case of Morgan who is joined by baby Charlie, the effective but testing “players bubble” of the U.S might simply not have been possible as it requires players to be isolated from their families for weeks on end.
The combination of circumstances a growing profile and the chance to earn a full time living with an off season has drawn some of the best players to England and spread them across numerous teams, only time will tell how successful the league will become, for now all we have to do is enjoy the football.