Nikita Parris was voted the best player in the WSL by the Football Writers’ Association in 2019. She had just scored 19 goals in 19 league games for Manchester City, then started five of England’s six games at that summer’s World Cup and scored the Lionesses’ opening goal of the tournament.
12 days into the World Cup, it was confirmed that Parris had signed a three-year contract with Lyon, who at that stage had won four consecutive Champions League titles. She scored four times en-route to the French giants making that five in a row.
Until 2020 when she was finally caught and overtaken by Vivianne Miedema, Parris also remained the WSL’s all-time leading goalscorer on 49.
Parris had a good record at Lyon overall scoring 31 times in 47 appearances. She started 10 times in Division 1 in her first year in France and missed only one of the club’s league games until the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in the cancellation of the season. She actually improved her league tally in 2020/21, but the impact of adapting to life in a new country in such challenging off-field circumstances cannot be underestimated or ignored.
Arsenal saw fit to agree a substantial €100,000 deal with Lyon to bring Parris back to England a year before her contract in France was due to expire. That transfer was agreed in mid-June, a couple of weeks before the club appointed Jonas Eidevall as new manager.
Football is so changeable at the best of times and Eidevall appeared to have other ideas when it came to it. Parris struggled for regular games with the Gunners, resulting in her managing just one WSL goal – her elusive 50th – which came from the penalty spot at the end of the campaign.
Although still selected for England’s Euro 2022 squad, that lack of club minutes or goalscoring form had a direct knock-on effect with her involvement at the tournament.
To look at her decreasing England opportunities and her record at Arsenal in isolation compared to her previous numbers between 2017 and 2019 would be an unfair assessment.
What Manchester United are getting is a player, still only 28, who has repeatedly proven herself in the WSL in the past and for whom difficult circumstances have had an impact.
A fresh start at this stage of her career at a club that was crying out last season for the kind of top level experience Parris has accumulated is exactly what she needs to recapture her best form. She will be competing with Alessia Russo, Martha Thomas, Leah Galton, Kirsty Hanson, Lucia Garcia, Rachel Williams and is versatile enough that she can play on either wing or through the middle.
There is still a degree of Parris needing to prove herself, having not played regularly in the WSL since 2019, but given the kind of opportunities she didn’t get at Arsenal and the chance to regain confidence, she has the potential to still be one of the best forwards in the league.
Parris is clear what she is joining United to do, with the club determined to break into the WSL top three and qualify for the Champions League for the first time. Last season in particular, although more points adrift of third place than in 2020/21, saw them only miss out because of isolated moments resulting in dropped points from winning positions in the final 15 minutes of five games.
“With my winning mentality in matches and in training I want to help the team move forward. A lot of fourth-placed finishes and just missing out on those third spots, I now want to help the team grow,” Parris told United’s in-house media upon arriving.
“I'm not just the only new signing this summer so it shows the intent from the club and from Marc [Skinner] in what he wants with from the squad and how we want to push forward and aim for those top spots.”
If Parris is given the right platform, there is no reason why she couldn’t be a very shrewd acquisition.