England’s football leaders want to restrict the number of foreign players in their top women’s league and introduce salary caps to tackle the growing financial gulf between clubs.
The English Football Association’s concerns reflect those it has been confronting in the men’s game, with the same target: Turning the national teams into world champions while retaining strong domestic competitions and boosting grassroots participation.
Manchester City’s signing of FIFA world player of the year Carli Lloyd is embraced by a governing body keen to raise the standards in its league, as is the club’s decision to divert funding from the men’s team to the loss- making women’s setup.
But only City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool have the financial strength to give their women’s teams full-time contracts and pay significant transfer fees. Those clubs have surpassed the smaller teams who were once the foundation of the women’s league but who lack the resources to compete with the new elite.
“There are always going to be those tensions to manage,” Sue Campbell, the FA’s head of women’s soccer, said at Wembley Stadium on Monday. “So a team like Manchester City’s ambition is to win the women’s Champions League. To do that they want, not just a good 11 players on the pitch, they want some great substitutes. Because of the fact we haven’t got enough talent through at this point they are looking overseas to bring people in.”
Rather than imposing quotas and financial curbs, FA technical director Dan Ashworth is in talks with clubs to build a consensus to ensure there’s a competitive balance in the competitions.
“We have met with those clubs and talked about putting a quota for English players,” Campbell said. “We are still in that discussion. We are talking about moving to a hard salary cap […] where you can have your marquee players but you have a salary cap that holds the game in balance.”
Lloyd has only joined Manchester City from the Houston Dash for a curtailed April to June Women’s Super League spring series. The American is set to return home before the WSL shifts to mirror the men’s season by playing from September to May. Two London clubs have turned to the United States for 2017 signings, with Crystal Dunn joining Chelsea from the Washington Spirit and Heather O’Reilly arriving at Arsenal from Kansas City.
Those players can have a big role in helping to develop the next generation of English talent, according to Arsenal defender Alex Scott, who finished third at the Women’s World Cup with England in 2015.
Quotas are “something that needs to be looked at, you don’t want it to get silly,” said Scott, who said there were benefits to her stint in the U.S. with the Boston Breakers. “I know how much I benefited from going over to America to play [with the Boston Breakers …] it improved me as an England player.”
And the FA believes its women’s team is better placed to win the World Cup before the men repeat the 1966 success.
“The women have a stronger sense of team identity as to who they are through adversity,” FA chief executive Martin Glenn said. “You get strength through adversity. And we have worked hard with sports psychiatrists and the like to create that identity.”
England’s men exited the 2016 European Championship with an embarrassing Round of 16 loss to Iceland and last reached a tournament semifinal two decades earlier.
“The bulldog spirit — go out and kill or whatever — doesn’t work for such a diverse group of players or this generation of players,” Glenn said of the men’s team. “The England women’s team is one of the best in terms of team spirit I have seen.” Rob Harris, London, MDT/AP