26 Sep Coronavirus: Top US women footballers join Premier League as a result of pandemic | UK News
A few months ago, some experts were predicting coronavirus could deal an unsurvivable blow to women’s football.
The season had been paused indefinitely and while exhaustive efforts were under way to get men’s football back in action, the women’s game seemed to have been forgotten about.
But in a strange twist of fortune, the Women’s Super League (WSL), the top football league in England, seems to have emerged as that rarest of things; a beneficiary of the pandemic.
Because, while COVID-19 has laid waste to the women’s league in the US, long considered the best in the world, some of their superstar players are heading over here to get game time.
The WSL was able to start up again this month, bolstered by the arrival of five World Cup winners from the US.
Chief among them is Alex Morgan, a genuine crossover star and one of the highest profile sportswomen in the world, and the newest signing for Tottenham Hotspur.
Morgan, who could make her debut against Arsenal on Saturday, has been on the cover of Time magazine and has 9.2 million followers on Instagram.
When the WSL began as a semi-professional league in 2011, the idea that players of Morgan’s calibre could be attracted over here would not have been countenanced.
But with some of England’s biggest Premier League sides – Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal – investing heavily in their women’s teams, there seems to have been a power shift towards the WSL.
Now, many consider it as good as any women’s league in the world.
Alex Culvin is a former footballer for Leeds, Everton and Bristol and now a senior lecturer in sport business at Salford University.
She says it is indicative of the growing lure of the Women’s Super League.
“The league is most definitely on an upward trajectory and you can see that with these signings of the five USA players,” she said.
“The pandemic has probably meant it’s happened sooner, but it does show that these top teams are investing now.
“Tottenham weren’t even in the top league last season so for them to have a player like Morgan is absolutely huge.
“These big teams are recognising that it is good for their overall brand to invest in their women’s team and players that have such a big personal brand like Morgan.
“It’s good for their chances of success and also looks good to the outside from a corporate responsibility point of view.”
Christen Press is a veteran of the women’s game and signed for Manchester United this month alongside US teammate Tobin Heath.
United didn’t even have a women’s team four years ago, something they were heavily criticised for, but their investment has seen them rise to the top of the game.
“More organisations are investing in the women’s game because they see the value,” says Press, 32, a two-time World Cup winner.
“They see the opportunity and the potential and that’s what you have here.
“I think it is something that’s contagious and catches fire and the other clubs investing in their teams 100% inspired this.
“What you hope is that it inspires the next club and that’s how the global game moves forward.”
Rose Lavelle is another member of the US team that won the World Cup last year and has now arrived in England after signing for Manchester City.
The 25-year-old scored the winning goal in the World Cup final and is considered one of the finest midfielders around.
“When I was growing up, I never thought it would be a possibility to play in England,” she told Sky News.
“I watched the Champions League but never thought it was a possibility for me to play in it.
“So when this pandemic happened it was too big an opportunity to pass up.
“I hope that we’re going to be bringing some of the US TV audience with us and we can just continue to help the game grow over here.”
A note of caution should be struck, though, about what could be a widening of the gap between the haves and have nots in the women’s game.
The opening 10 days of the season saw Arsenal Women beat West Ham United Women 9-1 and Chelsea Women thrash Bristol City Women 9-0.
“For the overall brand and competitiveness of the Women’s Super League it could be slightly problematic to have these big name players over here on short term contracts,” said Culvin.
“Because the gap is getting even larger between the big teams like Tottenham, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and everyone else.”
International talent arriving at the biggest clubs has certainly made England’s top league even stronger than before the pandemic. The question is, will this translate into long term popularity?