Last season’s progression from Albion’s women’s team was well timed ahead of a pivotal moment in the Women’s game in England, with the new WSL TV broadcast deal with Sky beginning later this year. However, with increased opportunity comes increased risk.
It will no doubt come with an increase in the level of competition in the WSL, something demonstrated particularly by the number of new signings made by Everton, including England international Toni Duggan and German international Leonie Maier.
Everton, who finished one place and five points above Albion last season, are setting the bar for them in terms of the standard required to make further progress up the WSL next season.
And Albion have responded with two big signings of their own. Most recently Rinsola Babajide on loan from Liverpool. Who despite her parent team Liverpool’s lack of success in recent seasons, has plenty of talent to offer the Seagulls attack, highlighted by her numerous England youth caps, including winning the bronze medal at the U20 2018 World Cup, along with a call up to the senior team last year.
Yes, it’s initially only a season long loan, but given her contract at Liverpool runs out next summer and that she handed in a transfer request at Liverpool in January, it’s hard to see her going back there, especially given their off-field troubles that saw them drop out of the WSL in 2020. So, this could well become permanent next summer, who knows.
This draws to a close a bit of a transfer saga for Rinsola and Liverpool, which appears to have led to some animosity towards her from Liverpool supporters.
After she signed a new contract with the club in the summer of 2020 following their relegation, she then received a senior England call up in September 2020, but some see her subsequent request for a transfer in January 2021 as a symptom of that call up leading her to push for a move and value personal success over her club.
But one person’s disloyalty is another’s ambition. And that Albion are managing to attract players like Rinsola, looking to make a step up to regain contention for international selection is a great sign of the club’s progress in the Women’s game.
Prior to that they had already announced the signing of Danielle Carter from Reading, another one-time England international and a big show of intent from Albion.
Carter is another player to have represented England at various youth levels and at senior level as recently as 2018. She has also won various major honours in her time with Arsenal, so adds important experience and know-how to Albion’s fairly young and inexperienced if talented squad.
But rather than joining Albion with her career on the wane at 28 Carter has her best years ahead of her. And whilst it’s been a while since she was last involved with England there’s still reasonable hope for her in that area too.
Given this and her experience, it’s no surprise she is the first Albion Women’s player to demand a transfer fee, a breakthrough moment in the team’s history and a show of intent from the club’s hierarchy.
Whilst many clubs of similar stature to Brighton have reluctantly invested as little as possible in their Women’s team, Albion have prioritised it and it’s really paying off in terms of the players it is attracting and the performances on the pitch.
These are indeed exciting times, a feeling echoed by manager Hope Powell’s saying upon signing Babajide this week:
“We achieved our highest WSL position and we’re in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, but we want to push on this season and get better. Any additions to our squad have got to add value to what we’ve got and in Danielle and Rinsola that is definitely the case.”
These signings are also a signal that Powell and the club recognise the need to address Albion main fallibility in recent times, quality in front of goal.
Whilst Albion’s brilliant run of wins towards the end of last season saw them finish in the top half of the WSL, this involved the team scoring with a great deal of efficiency in front of goal, a run that probably masks its ongoing issues in attack.
An issue highlighted by the run that preceded it in the first half of the season which was near the polar opposite in terms of its attack and left the club worrying about relegation at one point after a 3-0 defeat away to Bristol City. A run that shows this efficiency in front of goal can’t be relied upon being a consistent long-term attribute of the existing squad and that improvements in attack are needed for Albion to continue to compete at the higher end of the WSL.
The key for Albion this season is to control games better and improve the frequency and quality of their attacks. These two signings, both in adding talent in attack and experience on the pitch should help them do that.