Manchester City have signed Jamaica international striker Khadija Shaw on a three-year contract, the type of long-term deal that is becoming increasingly normal in the women’s game as continued investment and growth allows for more than just short-term planning.
Budgetary restraints have long ensured that players have often had to survive season to season in the past, with many clubs rarely knowing if the funds will be available to commit to more than a year at a time. But while that is still an issue for a lot of teams and players, even with the WSL upgrading to a fully professional competition in 2018, longer-term contracts are creeping in at last.
The single biggest reason is increased exposure for the women’s game in recent years, which in turn brings in more money and gives clubs the flexibility to create plans beyond the immediate horizon without the same fear that may one have had about cash running out.
Commercial investments, such as when Barclays signed up as a title sponsor for the WSL in 2019, have been crucial to that change. The new WSL broadcasting deal with Sky Sports and BBC that begins next season will only push that further and it says plenty about the financial robustness of some clubs that they have been comfortable handing out longer deals in the current climate.
Before signing Shaw, Manchester City snared USWNT defender Abby Dahlkemper on a contract until 2023, while Chelsea agreed a two-year deal with the option of a third for Fran Kirby in March. Sam Kerr’s contract with Chelsea agreed at the end of 2019 was also a multi-year deal.
Chelsea striker Bethany England signed a long-term contract last summer and both Katie McCabe and Manuela Zinsberger have penned Arsenal deals until at least 2023 in recent months.
Ella Toone’s contract with Manchester United signed in 2020 runs until 2022 with the option of a third year, and the club recently handed winger Leah Galton a new deal for up to four years.
Longer term contracts are still largely the domain of the bigger WSL clubs, although West Ham have notably tied England defender Grace Fisk to a new two-year deal that runs until 2023.
Arsenal only agreeing a 12-month deal with Leah Williamson this week is more to do with individual uncertainty over her future. The England defender had run down her previous deal and was heavily linked with Lyon, with a short-term contract suggesting she is still contemplating a move.
As well as being beneficial for the players – who can feel more settled because their time won’t be up in a matter of months – coaches, managers and technical staff can rest easier as it makes it less challenging to plan for the future and put a proper vision in place knowing there is less risk of the squad they have built being disbanded at the end of each season.
Not every WSL club has such luxuries just yet, but the league as a whole is heading in that direction and it will only be a matter of time before longer-term planning becomes the norm.