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'We will see first £1m women's footballer by 2025'

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 01/02/2023 Tom Garry
Alessia Russo wearing Manchester United kit - ‘We will see first £1m women’s footballer by 2025’ - Getty Images/Morgan Harlow © Morgan Harlow/GETTY Alessia Russo wearing Manchester United kit - ‘We will see first £1m women’s footballer by 2025’ - Getty Images/Morgan Harlow

Arsenal’s world record £500,000 offer for Manchester United’s Alessia Russo was the talk of transfer deadline day in the Women’s Super League and though the move was rejected, it highlighted how rapidly the women’s football transfer market is changing.

The deal would have comfortably surpassed the world-record transfer for a women's player of just over £400,000, paid by Barcelona to sign England midfielder Keira Walsh from Manchester City last September.

With Tottenham smashing their own club record by spending about £250,000 to sign Lionesses striker Bethany England from Chelsea at the start of the window and with Chelsea making a “substantial” bid – understood to be well above £100,000 – for Arsenal’s Katie McCabe, which was rejected over the weekend, the common theme was that the big WSL clubs had significant cash at their disposal, relative to the usual budgets in the league.

It was also hugely notable that WSL clubs appeared far more willing than usual to try to sign players directly from their rivals. How much of that is down to attempts to unsettle fellow trophy contenders at a time when the race for the title and the Women's Champions League places is close-fought is not entirely clear.

Major WSL transfers in January © Provided by The Telegraph Major WSL transfers in January

For a league that historically tended to see almost every player move on a free transfer at the end of their contract, what is clear is that the age of the transfer fee has well and truly arrived.

And it means the fee that Barcelona paid for Walsh looks unlikely to stay on top of the list for anywhere near as long as the previous record – of just over £250,000, paid by Chelsea to sign Pernille Harder from Wolfsburg in 2020.

“We want to see that record broken, and I hope Keira’s record is broken in this summer’s window. It’s an important part of the evolution of the women’s game,” said Sam Stapleton, the chief executive of Rept Sports, the agency that brokered Walsh’s move to Barcelona and who have also represented several of England’s biggest names, including Chelsea’s Lauren James.

“Looking back, it was surprising that the record fee paid for Pernille Harder stood as the record for as long as it did. Every window, investment seems to go up and up, and you want to see everyone pushing for more. We all want to see more investment in the women’s game.

“If certain players were to have a very impressive Euro 2025, I think that by the end of that 2025 summer transfer window, that could be when we see the first £1 million women’s player. This summer’s World Cup will finish on August 20, which is pretty close to the deadline day and therefore it’s not easy for a player to earn a move purely off their performances at that tournament alone. But by the time of that 2025 Euros, you’d expect things to have moved onto another level.”

That £1 million barrier is a landmark the women’s game is edging closer and closer towards, amid spiralling inflation in player valuations because of the growing number of teams willing to invest in their women’s football set-ups.

Had Manchester United accepted Arsenal’s half-a-million pound bid, the world-record fee would have doubled in two-and-a-half years. At that rate of acceleration, a £1 million move by the summer of 2025 or earlier does not seem remotely unrealistic.

As for Russo, United are hopeful that she will commit her future to the club. The 23-year-old’s current deal expires in the summer and she has been in talks to re-sign, with manager Marc Skinner saying: “I can’t stress enough, Alessia is the nicest person, the best kid, great attitude, exactly someone we are looking to keep here, keep in negotiations and conversations around that.

“I’m going to try everything in our power [to keep Russo]. There are always factors in that. There are things we need to work out, but actually, I think she has a real love for this club. We have a real love for her. So I would be very hopeful, and we are going to work until the day we stop off the field to do that.”

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