The Hokey Cokey of the Women’s Super League

With the Chelsea vs Everton FA Cup tie played out. The sun has set on another season, a season like no other. With Chelsea crowned as Champions and Bristol City saying au revoir for the time being, we begin the Merry go round of WSL transfers. Where we see tears of anguish, screams of anger or whoops of joy and that’s just the social media admin that had to go and deal with the peed off fans.

Transfer season is traumatic for fans as you say goodbye to fan favourites. It leaves you questioning your club’s very existence as well as the manager’s competency. Even worse is when the said player chooses to leave. The wails over the lack of loyalty can be heard up and down the British Isles.  So much so you forget that you might just get some new players to gush about.

Loyalty! Now that’s an interesting concept, especially in the women’s game. I would even go as far as to say there is even less in the women’s game than their male counterparts. Controversial, yes, but hear me out.

There are so few opportunities within the Women’s game, a player can’t afford to be loyal to a club. Frankly, most clubs can’t be loyal to a player, not anymore.  The beautiful game is the prime focus now and has been for while, its money and its ability to make it. The entertainment it brings is secondary as it has always been. Please let’s be honest, football’s origins are from factory owners keeping their employers fit for work and for temperance movements keeping people out of public houses. The fact people enjoy twenty-two people chase after a leather sack of air was a byproduct.

Women’s football is at the stage where it’s on the verge of being financially viable. It’s still so fragile so that no sentimentality can be afforded.  If a player is plagued with injuries within the Premier League they are given time to heal, come back to their best. My team have had issues with perennial sick notes Jack Wilshire and Andy Carroll who spent more time on the physio’s table than on the pitch. Rarely do their female counterparts have the same luxury. I can think of about three.  Most teams do not have the funds to have players on the books they can’t use.

As we have seen with recent retainment lists, despite being fan favourites, it's mainly the chronically injured who got the cut. Football once again is foremost a business.

The same can be said the other way around, players cannot afford to show loyalty to a club, not if they want to progress to their own elite level. Using the WSL as the example there are twelve clubs in the league. So that twenty-two matches in a season guaranteed. Say your club is successful in all cup competitions. That’s three to four matches in the Conti Cup qualifications then three matches in the knockout. FA Cup you come in at the 4th round. So that is a maximum of 5 games. So if you have had an exceptional domestic season the most games you will play is 21.  A standard season in the Premier League is 38 and that’s excluding additional competitions. More opportunity for squad rotation and growth. Therefore if you are not a part of the first team 11 you going to want to move on.  It’s very rare to find a Mark Noble in the WSL.

Transfers in women’s football can seem more brutal as often they are declared in retainment lists. So you have the shock of half your squad leaving in one go. This is why there is more outrage amongst fans. Search any fan social media after the announcement and there will be huffing and puffing and declarations that will never support the team again. Yet no doubt we will see them on the terraces at the start of the next season.  Having seven or eight players is normal. Trust me if you don’t follow the WSL religiously or it’s your first season, this is what happens. It doesn’t mean there is a problem with your club or your manager or even the guy cleans boots behind the scenes, usually. Of course, there are some notable exceptions.

A change of management can course a mass exodus of players. We have seen this with Birmingham City twice now. Once when Mark Skinner left and the season after with Marta Tejedor at the helm. Many could infer she was not a popular manager with the influx of transfer requests she received. Especially when stalwarts of the Brum side Kerys Harrop and Rach Williams both went to Spurs. In hindsight, with the allegations coming from players about the state of the club’s treatment of them. It might be a little unfair to lay the blame solely at Tejedor’s feet.  Both West Ham and more recently Tottenham Hotspurs have released a large number of players due to a personal change during last season.

Photos: @ArsenalWFC and @ChelseaFCW

Of course, these changes are more palatable if it comes from someone who has seen you play. If not slightly more personal in both helpful and hurtful ways. As we are seeing from Liverpool new management can cause a fair few ripples. A few players taking to social media confirming that what started as contract negotiations under the old regime. Has become contract offers rescinded without so much of a thank you for your service. So clearly there are right and wrong ways to issue the chop.

Ultimately the main challenge we need to remember is contracts are notoriously short in the women’s game.  The longest you are likely to get two years if you are lucky. Even the England captain can’t get more than that on her recent extension.  Again using what I know, which is West Ham. Tomàš Souček played half a season with the Hammers before being offered a four-year deal. Six months and the unproven player gets security. Grace Fisk who had been an absolute rock of our defence for the last 18 months, has been rewarded with only two more years.

Contract length ultimately is why we say goodbye to so many players each season. If all contracts end at two years. Then it’s optimal for both sides of the equation to end the relationship. Players can move on to pastures new as well as managers getting rid of those who do not fit into their plan. So whilst it is disconcerting to see so many names on the out list, it’s currently the way of the world.

Of course, there are many wider repercussions for having two year only contracts. Clubs feel like they can buy success by having players, they fit into place. How teams have to start the gelling process all over again. It doesn’t matter if you have eleven superstars on the pitch if they are playing as individuals. You got nothing but egos, disorder and well nothing. But contract length could and should be its own article.

It can be discouraging, disheartening and disappointing to see so many players leave at once. But we need to focus on the positives. Transfer season doesn't mean just departures but also arrivals. New blood to freshen up a squad, to give new ideas and depth. After all, remember your favourites were all once young blooded newbies.

Also, give love to the players who are staying to fight for your badge.  They too are affected by friends leaving and having to work with those unfamiliar. If all they see is the despondency of fans over those leaving, it’s going to feel like a kick in the face. As they are going to be on that pitch for you for seasons to come. Well at least two of them anyway.