A January like no other – the WSL transfer window that changed women’s football

A world-record bid for England international Alessia Russo on transfer deadline day and a frantic search for strikers capped a remarkable end to a memorable Women’s Super League window.

It was a January window like no other in the WSL as clubs’ spending reached a new level, records were broken and players were headline news.

Here is why it changed the landscape of the women’s football market.

Arsenal made two world-record bids for England striker Russo – the second believed to be just under £500,000 – before Manchester United told them she was not for sale at any price.

They came in the final 24 hours of the transfer window, and had that deal gone through it would have beaten the £400,000 Barcelona paid for England midfielder Keira Walsh in September.

These figures were unheard of a year ago and are a sign of intent that WSL clubs are willing to spend money on the best players.

It led to extensive media attention with Russo’s transfer saga dominating the headlines alongside Premier League deadline-day signings.

It was significant not just for the fee, but because it was another example of rival clubs attempting to rock the boat, coming just a week after Chelsea reportedly made a £250,000 bid, which was turned down by Arsenal, for winger Katie McCabe.

In both cases, Arsenal and Manchester United were unwilling to sell players to a direct rival despite the obvious financial incentives.

These huge sums were not in isolation. Several clubs were willing to pay fees in January with Tottenham reportedly signing Bethany England for a British-record fee, Aston Villa spent £30,000 on England international Jordan Nobbs from Arsenal, and Manchester United’s fee for Lisa Naalsund was said to be more than £100,000.

Another new development in the WSL transfer window is the introduction of fee demands for loan signings.

Manchester United midfielder Jade Moore was one example when she had heavy interest from Tottenham, before agreeing a loan move to former club Reading for a cost.

United are believed to be one of several clubs who have started asking for a fee to take senior players on loan, while it is understood a query from Arsenal to hijack Manchester City winger Jess Park’s season-long loan at Everton would have cost them £100,000.

This new strategy was controversial among clubs during the window, with some players keen for regular game time denied loan moves because of interested parties’ unwillingness to pay.

The loan market also produced some exciting deals as Aston Villa’s Olivia McLoughlin sealed a temporary move to local rivals Birmingham City on transfer deadline day, Tottenham scooped up in-demand Arsenal midfielder Mana Iwabuchi from their north-London rivals and Liverpool brought in Reading striker Natasha Dowie on 31 January – a team battling with them to avoid relegation.

January also showed the frequency in which female players are now leaving clubs despite having time remaining on their contracts.

In the past, WSL players were often on short-term contracts and movement usually occurred when those came to a natural end.

As well as Arsenal’s pursuit for Russo, whose current deal with United expires in the summer, there were moves for Manchester United’s Lucy Staniforth to Aston Villa following the mutual termination of her contract, and England’s switch to Tottenham from Chelsea despite a year remaining on her Blues deal.

Contract lengths were also a topic of discussion on an unprecedented level as clubs were questioned about negotiations for new deals.

Russo’s rejection of a contract renewal with United was widely reported, while question marks over the futures of team-mates Mary Earps and Ona Batlle have been high profile.

Aston Villa’s Sarah Mayling, Chelsea’s Melanie Leupolz, Manchester United’s Millie Turner and Tottenham’s Ria Percival were among the biggest contract renewals to be announced in January.