Like the rest of the population, we at Sportside looked on in awe and wonder at the most recent transfer window as first a highly emotional Lionel Messi left Barcelona for Paris St Germain and then Cristiano Ronaldo returned to Manchester United in one of the most sensational moves in recent times.
But as all that excitement calms down and Premier League football takes a welcome break for the weekend, it is time to celebrate the return of the Women’s Super League – with high hopes for the biggest and most exciting season to date attracting hundreds and thousands of new players to the grassroots game, young and old.
With supporters allowed back in the stadiums and a new broadcast deal in place this season allowing matches to be shown live on BBC and Sky Sports more people than ever will be watching the women’s game at elite level and record participation numbers are expected to follow swiftly behind.
And it should be a cracking season. Everton v Manchester City will become the first ever domestic women’s league game shown on terrestrial TV on Saturday when it is screened on BBC1 and is one of 22 matches the corporation will show this season.
But all eyes are on whether anyone can beat Chelsea this year. Emma Hayes’s side only lost one game last season as they retained their league title and reached the Champions League final.
After a summer spent excelling as a Euro 2020 pundit, Hayes now returns to the day job and has been busy adding and improving on an already formidable squad. Chelsea signed teenage striker Lauren James from Manchester United as well as PSV and Netherlands defender Aniek Nouwen, while securing key forward Fran Kirby and highly-rated goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger on contract extensions.
Manchester City look likely to be their best challengers again and they have also improved this summer with Jamaica international Khadija Shaw and former Barcelona captain Vicky Losada joining the squad.
Arsenal, who have a strong history in women’s football, have a new manager in Sweden’s Jonas Eidevall, have signed England international Nikita Parris from Lyon and are hopeful of challenging for honours again. Eidevall had a brief spell as Henrik Larsson’s assistant at Helsingborgs, led Rosengard to three league titles in two spells and helped them reach the quarter-finals of last season’s Champions League and has promised a new way of playing to the club.
Manchester United have a new manager too in Marc Skinner, but they have lost James, Amy Turner and Tobin Heath last summer following Casey Stoney’s departure so it may be a case of consolidating this year. But they have signed exciting Norwegian midfielder Vilde Boe Risa to boost their ranks.
Tottenham have also been busy in the transfer market with former Real Madrid forward Chioma Ubogagu and Australian international Kyah Simon joining the north London club.
Everton have welcomed home England forward Toni Duggan from Atletico Madrid and former Juventus midfielder Aurora Galli will become the first Italian to play in the WSL for them too.
Elsewhere, defender Louise Quinn joined Birmingham City from Fiorentina, former AC Milan striker Natasha Dowie moved to Reading and Brighton brought in striker Danielle Carter for an undisclosed fee.
A few issues remain though with the women’s game and there is still widespread concern and confusion as to why there remains a huge disparity in prize money for men’s and women’s FA Cup winners.
The winners of the men’s FA Cup will claim a prize total of £1.8m compared with just £25,000 for the winners of the women’s competition.
The FA claims the pandemic has been a factor in the disparity in prize money remaining the same but for many this excuse simply is not good enough.
“Whilst we recognise there is currently a significant disparity between prize money for the men’s and women’s competitions, these are determined by the amounts of money generated through commercial revenue, including national and international broadcast rights,” said an FA spokesperson.
“The Emirates FA Cup is the biggest revenue producer for The FA and currently generates £212m per annum.
“This revenue enables us to invest back into football at all levels and we have made significant progress to develop the women’s game as a result.
“We invested over £18m into the ‘Gameplan for Growth’; our ambitious strategy for the women’s game, which doubled participation, delivered professional and semi-professional women’s football and a successful England team.
“In addition, we launched our new ‘Inspiring Positive Change’ strategy in October last year and we will work with Barclays FA Women’s Super League and FA Championship clubs to grow audiences and revenues, which will help make women’s football in England more commercially viable in the future and allow further re-investment.
“Unfortunately, like many organisations, The FA has been challenged financially by the pandemic, which has resulted in both the men’s and women’s competitions being affected.”
Hopefully another hugely successful WSL season goes a long way to repairing that huge differential between the men’s and women’s games.
We are delighted to see the new WSL season begin and will be watching those new recruits with as much attention as we will be monitoring that new no7 in the Manchester United men’s team.