Manchester United Women have acted with ambition in the 2020 summer transfer market, with the immediate aim for the club to make the existing WSL ‘Big Three’ into a ‘Big Four’.
The July signing of Lucy Staniforth feels like a long time ago now, but it was big news to get an established and experienced England international on board to continue the fine progress that was made during the team’s debut top flight campaign in 2019/20.
The subsequent captures of Tobin Heath and Christen Press, both World Cup winners with the USWNT in 2015 and 2019, were next level.
All three will give a United side that is already well drilled defensively and in midfield the quality going forward they occasionally lacked last season. For those outside the WSL ‘Big Three’, it is about improving to try and close that gap and United have done it more spectacularly than anyone.
The team has started the campaign well, going toe-to-toe with champions Chelsea on matchday one and coming away with a point, while eventually thrashing Birmingham 5-2 a week later. As yet, Staniforth, Heath and Press haven't even featured, which only bodes well for when they do.
While Heath and Press are expected to take United to the next level because both are genuinely world class – they featured 17th and 30th respectively in The Guardian’s 2019 list of the top 100 female players on the planet – they themselves will only be around short-term.
But the long-term is nicely taking shape at Leigh Sports Village as well. That can be seen with the statement capture of 21-year-old England international Alessia Russo, who has returned to the WSL this season following three years playing collegiate soccer with the legendary UNC Tar Heels.
With Russo joining existing young stars like Lauren James, 18, Ella Toone, 21, and Kirsty Hanson, 22, on top of further up and coming summer signings like 21-year-old Spain full-back Ona Batlle and Germany Under-19 international Ivana Fuso, United are already thinking about what is to come.
Having young players in and around Heath and Press on a daily basis will serve no end of good. Russo, James, Hanson and Fuso will learn directly from them on the training pitch and in games, but even Batlle, as a defender, will be exposed to their winning mentality and professional drive.
That isn’t a benefit necessarily exclusive to young players either.
Russo, who was capped by England at the 2020 SheBelieves Cup, is even showing United can already have the best of both worlds. The youngster impressed on her debut against Birmingham and bagged an assist in the win, but it is her long-term upside that is most important.
Russo is very highly-rated, so too is James, and those two in particular could be leading lights for United, England and women’s football in general for years to come...and they are on board already.