Three major WSL departures were announced on Friday as the contracts of Everton's Chloe Kelly, Birmingham's Lucy Staniforth and Liverpool's Niamh Charles all expired.
The trio have been standout performers for their respective clubs this season, leaving three potentially very exciting free transfers to be taken advantage of during the WSL transfer window.
What do the exits mean for the clubs and players, and where could we see Kelly, Staniforth and Charles lining up next season?
Kelly has spent three seasons at Everton and enjoyed a major breakthrough campaign this year, hitting nine goals in 12 appearances. Only Vivianne Miedema, Beth England and Pauline Bremer scored more - but none managed quite as many spectacular solo efforts. Her performances were rewarded with a spot in England's 2020 SheBelieves Cup squad.
Kelly's decision to not extend her stay with Everton is a surprising one. The club demonstrated a real ambition with the January signings of England international Izzy Christiansen and Australia forward Hayley Raso, and Kelly appeared to be at the perfect club to harness her potential. The 22-year-old's willingness to depart suggests a move to one of the WSL's big three could be on the cards.
Although Chelsea have a habit of making statement signings, a move to Manchester City would make more sense. The Citizens played a somewhat lopsided - albeit effective - system last season, with Lauren Hemp hugging the left touchline on one wing, and central midfielder by trade Jill Scott positioned on the other flank and drifting inside. The addition of another out and out winger would add some balance, and with Pauline Bremer departing, City should have room for another marquee attacking addition.
1/2 Thank you Everton ?— Chloe (@Chloe_Kelly98) June 19, 2020
To all the coaches & medical staff especially Willie Kirk for allowing me express myself on the pitch & push me everyday to be better , my team mates & the Fans?
I’m forever grateful for the opportunity this Club gave me,
Everton is a great club pic.twitter.com/5a8V8UXphc
Kelly came through the ranks at Arsenal, and a return to her former club could also be a possibility. The Gunners will have space in the squad for a new arrival with Katrine Veje, Louise Quinn, Pauline Peyraud-Magnin and Emma Mitchell all heading for the exit. However, the winger would have a real fight on her hands to get into the Gunners starting XI, which would be a considered a step backwards given the volume of first team football she played for Everton last season.
Manchester United could be in with an outside chance of securing Kelly's signature, but given Everton's ambition and the fact next season will be just United's third year in existence, this would be considered more of a sideways than an upwards move.
The England international was Birmingham's last remaining high profile name, following the departures of Ellen White, Aoife Mannion and Mel Lawley last summer. It is little surprise Staniforth is moving on given the struggles the Blues endured last season, and she will be a big loss for Birmingham.
The attacking midfielder would be an excellent addition for any side in the WSL. She is probably not quite good enough to walk into the starting XI at Manchester City, Arsenal or Chelsea, but would be a useful squad player for the trio.
However, Staniforth has too much quality to just be considered a squad player. She would be the perfect acquisition for Manchester United, who are gradually shedding the squad that won promotion from the Championship during the 2018/19 season and are now building to compete in the top half of the WSL. A midfield three of Katie Zelem, Jackie Groenen and Lucy Staniforth would be hugely exciting.
? We get ten times the strength⠀⠀— The Women’s Football Channel (@WePlayStrong_) May 17, 2020
When we’re more than just one.⠀⠀
Each of us playing our part,⠀⠀
United from the start,⠀⠀
Giving it all our ♥️.⠀⠀
It’s feeling that we belong.⠀⠀
That’s when we are strongest. ⠀⠀
Together #WePlayStrong⠀ pic.twitter.com/3VUKNA926J
Everton will be on the hunt for a Chloe Kelly replacement. Although Staniforth is not a winger, Kelly played parts of the season in the number ten role - a position that suits Staniforth down to the ground. Bringing in a player of Staniforth's calibre after losing Kelly would be a real statement of intent from Everton.
Reading will be in the market for a number of signings after a huge upheaval at the club. At the beginning of June, the Royals announced eight first team players would be departing. This is on top of the loss of Jade Moore, who revealed she was joining Orlando Pride in April. Midfielder Remi Allen will be particularly missed by Reading, and Staniforth could be just the person to step into her shoes.
Charles was one of the rare bright sparks in an otherwise disappointing campaign for relegated Liverpool. The exciting winger was often the Reds' most potent attacking threat, with her flair and trickery causing mayhem.
Unlike many of the departing Liverpool squad, who left in a storm of disparaging social media posts about their treatment from the club, Charles appeared to leave with a heavy heart. The 20-year-old is a lifelong Liverpool supporter and product of the club's youth system, and took to Twitter to announce her 'great sadness' at leaving the Reds.
Recruiting Charles would be a textbook Manchester City signing. The club have a proud history in investing in the very best young, English talent, and signing another natural winger to compliment Lauren Hemp should be one of their priorities. Charles can take heart from the example set by Hemp, who joined City as a 17-year-old in 2018 and has gone on to establish herself as a regular starter for both club and country this season.
Charles would be a natural replacement for Kelly at Everton. Although the Merseyside derby is not as fierce in the women's game, whether the lifelong Liverpool fan would be willing to trade the Red half of the City for the Blue could prove a sticking point.
Manchester United would also be an enticing destination for the England Under 20 international. Casey Stoney favours exciting, adventurous wingers, having got the very best out of Leah Galton over the past two seasons, and the signing of Charles would represent another step in the right direction for United as they attempt to establish themselves as a top WSL side.
Source : 90min