Women's Super League: Star of the East arrives at Chelsea to give league a lift
As WSL resumes after summer break, London club unveil the brilliant Yuki Ogimi while Liverpool and Arsenal pick up fight for title
There was a press conference at Chelsea's training ground to unveil a new signing. The media turned up in force to see the club's latest arrival. Nothing odd in that, except this was a player signed by Chelsea Ladies.
"We have 20 Japanese media coming here, that is unheard of in the women's game in England," said the Chelsea manager, Emma Hayes.
Japan's Yuki Ogimi is the big signing of the FA Women's Super League's mid-season break. A 2011 World Cup winner and silver medallist at last year's Olympics, she arrives from Turbine Potsdam, the German side with which she reached two Champions League finals, winning one, and secured two Bundesliga titles.
"Yuki had offers from many clubs but she bought into the vision we have here and chose us," said Hayes. "She is a player who can affect the environment. You can talk to players about making the next step up, but only when they play with someone like Yuki do they really understand. I can see the young players saying 'Wow, this is the next level'."
Ogimi's arrival is a lift for the FA WSL, a competition in its second year and still finding its feet. The league resumes this weekend after a break with the biggest match of the season so far, leaders Liverpool against once-dominant Arsenal on the all-weather surface Halton Stadium in Widnes.
Arsenal, who have brought in two Scotland internationals, Emma Mitchell from Bundesliga club SGS Essen, and Caroline Weir from Hibs, and Croatian goalkeeper Doris Bacic, are currently fifth in the eight-team league, though with enough matches left to harbour hopes of retaining their title.
Their hopes of doing so will be much clearer after tonight's match, televised live on BT Sport. Arsenal are eight points behind but have 10 games still to play compared to Liverpool's eight. The disparity is primarily because of Arsenal's cup commitments at home and abroad before a break taken to give the England squad lengthy and uninterrupted preparation time for the European Championship in Sweden.
Sacrificing the continuity of the season proved not to be worth it as England crashed out bottom of their group with one point from three lacklustre matches. The England manager, Hope Powell, who had declared beforehand it would be a disaster if her team did not make the quarter-finals, remains in situ despite the debacle with the Football Association appearing unwilling to push her and Powell in no mood to jump.
Powell's survival reflects the lack of media attention on the women's game. In the modern age it is inconceivable that a male England manager could survive such an appalling tournament. While recognising Powell's huge contribution during her 15 years at the helm, many, including, it is understood, a significant number of England players, believe it is time for her to step aside for the greater good. One unnamed manager said: "It was a massive failure for England and English football – it has made my job more difficult attracting people to the league, they question the standard."
The league thus resumes in something of a low mood and needs the prospect of a three-cornered title race to come to fruition. Besides Liverpool – the season's big pre-season spenders – and Arsenal, Bristol Academy are also in contention. Theirs is a different model, allying themselves with the educational establishment Bristol Academy of Sport rather than a male football club.
Bristol will go top if their result at Everton betters Liverpool's. While their ethos is bringing through young domestic players, and the form of goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain has been a key factor in their success, there is a Spanish accent to their rise with star strikers Laura del Rio and Natalia de Pablos now joined by Cristina "Keka" Leandro from Rayo Vallecano.
Ogimi will make her debut against Doncaster Belles at Staines. The Belles are bottom and doomed, not because of their league position – they have games in hand – but because they failed to secure a place in the top flight of next season's expanded WSL. Manchester City will replace them, which has caused much protest given the Belles' long heritage in the women's game but reflects the FA's desire to have financially-strong clubs in the elite. The Belles will be in the 10-team Second Division.
The other town losing their WSL status is Lincoln as the franchise is being moved to Nottingham. Perhaps unsurprisingly in the circumstances Lincoln's season has been disappointing after considerable pre-season investment. On Sunday they face a Birmingham side who have found it hard to maintain their form of last season amid the instability at their parent club.
The season continues with the league semi-finals in midweek (Arsenal v Everton and Liverpool v Lincoln) and runs until late September, by which time England's World Cup qualifying campaign will be underway. In the meantime attendance figures and sponsor interest will be closely monitored to see if the league is really ready for expansion despite the national team's uninspiring summer.
WSL details transfers & table
New arrivals Bristol Academy, Spain midfielder Keka (from Rayo Vallecano); Chelsea, Yuki Ogimi (FFC Turbine Potsdam); Liverpool Corina Schroeder and Sarah Gregorius (Bad Neuenahr)
Weekend fixtures (2pm unless stated): Saturday Liverpool v Arsenal (7pm, BT Sport 2). Sunday Chelsea v Doncaster Rovers Belles, Everton v Bristol Academy, Lincoln v Birmingham City
Bristol Acad. 6/5/0/1/15/8/15
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