Manchester United will sell teenage star Lauren James to Chelsea, the club where she started her youth career and where older brother Reece is a burgeoning star for the men’s team, for £50,000 and an as yet un-named Blues player in part-exchange.
James will be a huge loss for a United side that appears to be going backwards.
The club is still manager-less since the sudden resignation of Casey Stoney in May, a number of players have left, recruitment appears to be in limbo and recent revelations about how the women’s team has been run have left a sour taste in the mouth for fans and journalists alike.
James joined United at the age of 16 when the club's inaugural squad was assembled in 2018. She had moved on from Chelsea’s youth ranks to Arsenal, where she played a handful of first-team games, but it was in Manchester that she really began to thrive.
Despite her young age, James’ 28 goals for United make her the club’s all-time leading scorer.
Having already been short of a prolific striker and also losing USWNT Tobin Heath and Christen Press at the end of their respective one-season contracts, replacing James is absolutely critical for United.
That is why United fans will hope that the Chelsea player coming to Manchester in part-exchange will be a quality attacker of proven WSL repute. Bethany England or perhaps Erin Cuthbert would be the most desirable but still arguably feasible options in that respect.
England was the double PFA and WSL player of the year in 2019/20 after a phenomenal season in which she briefly overtook Arsenal superstar Vivianne Miedema as the league’s best striker.
But the arrivals of Sam Kerr and Pernille Harder in the last 18 months, as well as the sensational return of Fran Kirby from long-term illness, has given Chelsea a phenomenal pool of attackers and has seen England slip out of contention as a regular starter. She was on the bench for the 2021 Champions League final against Barcelona and only appeared when the game was long gone.
That a player of her quality should be pushed to the fringes because of the truly world class competition only underlines just how deep Chelsea’s squad is, with the situation for Cuthbert, still only 22 but a nominee for PFA player of the year in 2019, a similar one.
In terms of the price of the James deal, it is not unreasonable to think that England in particular could be included in addition to the £50,000 cash fee.
For comparison’s sake, Arsenal’s recent capture of Nikita Parris from Lyon is worth up to £85,000 after add-ons. Ex-United boss Stoney said in 2019 she had never before seen a talent like James, suggesting she is a generational talent, and with 10 or more years ahead of her at the highest level is therefore arguably worth much more than that.
The total package is thought to be valued at around £200,000, which also includes various add-ons. That would still be a more than fair and plausible price for James in the market and yet also values England very highly - a considerable transfer fee in the women’s game when most WSL players still move between clubs as free agents.
If United were to end up taking a different fringe Chelsea player like Drew Spence or Hannah Blundell, for example, still solid WSL players but not stars, they would be getting the short end of the stick.
United, for all the new concerns about the women’s team, the facilities and infrastructure, are still a huge lure in name alone and the club at least seems aware of the problems it must address by pledging better and more appropriate support and facilities for its female players.
Were United to land a player like England, it would be a huge step forward at a challenging time.