Welcome to Moving the Goalposts, the Guardian’s free women’s football newsletter. Here’s an extract from this week’s edition. To receive the full version once a week, just put your email in below:
Arsenal’s audacious late swoop to sign the Manchester United striker Alessia Russo set the already busy January transfer window alight.
That the England forward is out of contract at the end of the season is likely to have prompted a belief in north London that a big-money bid could have persuaded United to let the player go now rather than on a free in the summer.
It was a long shot – a massive long shot – and a real test of Manchester United’s resolve. Had United given up their star striker to a title rival while at the top of the WSL table, it would have essentially told the rest of the league the club values cash over its title challenge.
However, the money on offer was huge and the temptation will have been high. For context, the bid for Russo is believed to have reached £500,000, almost a third of the annual cost of Manchester United’s total wage bill for the year ending in June 2021.
At the Euros, Russo came off the bench to score four goals and was the Lionesses’ second highest goal-scorer at the tournament behind golden boot winner Beth Mead. For Arsenal, the world-record level bid shows just how desperate the club were to recruit a proven goalscorer in January following the ACL injuries suffered by Mead and Vivianne Miedema.
As reported by Arseblog, Arsenal had been on the hunt for a striker all through January, showing interest in the Brazilian forward Debinha and Canadian striker Cloé Lacasse before turning attention to Russo. The club ends the month without having filled their biggest hole, and there are pros and cons to the high-profile nature of their bid for Russo.
On the one hand it shows Russo just how much the Gunners value her and want her before a big decision to make in the summer. On the other hand, it could have the opposite and act as catalyst for the United players, likely to be frustrated at the attempt to pry away a key piece of their title charge by a rival. Arsenal have probably also made their transfer business more complicated, having shown the rest of the world that they have big money available.
That the discussions between Russo and United around extending her contract have come to nothing suggests that all may not be rosy at the club. Russo is a life-long United fan and pictures of the grinning player as a child engulfed in oversized United shirts are well circulated. United are top of the WSL table, albeit level on points with Chelsea and three points clear of Arsenal, who have a game in hand.
The likelihood of United finishing in the top three and earning a spot in the Champions League is high. If United can’t keep one of their prized assets in that context, then what is going on? Is the money not enough? If not, why? Or are there problems in and around the squad?
This could, of course, all be a ploy by the player and the people around her to extract the best possible terms out of United They may have hoped that her fandom would ensure they secured her signature on a new deal on the cheap. What is now clear is that will not be an option. United will have to break the bank, fix their shop, or both. Every club in the world will be licking their lips at the prospect of bringing in such a talent for free in the summer. If they don’t act fast, Russo will have her pick.
In a weekend full of spectacular finishes, this pick may represent a surprise. But the meaning behind Rebekah Stott’s goal as Brighton saw off West Brom makes it our goal of the week. Stage three Hodgkin’s lymphoma had forced Stott to leave Brighton prematurely in March 2021. With her cancer in remission, she re-signed with the club last summer. Sunday’s game was her first appearance for the Seagulls since her return and she marked it in the best possible way. Sophie Downey
Got a question for our writers – or want to suggest a topic to cover? Get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or posting BTL.