Youth is the only thing worth having
Chelsea, Barcelona, and the race to win over the kids
Vicky Lopez. Maika Hamano. Giulia Dragoni. Martine Fenger. Brooke Aspin. Onyeka Gamero. Wieke Kaptein. Some of these players’ names might be more familiar than others but they all have one thing in common: they were all signed at the age of 18 or under in the past year and a half by Barcelona or Chelsea. There is currently an international arms race going on between two of the biggest clubs in Europe to identify and recruit the best youth talent. The intensity of this drive is symptomatic of where both sides see the future of women’s football heading.
Keira Walsh joining Barcelona for a world record fee in the summer of 2022 might have been the headline grabber but what clubs are really latching onto is the growing frequency in fees being paid for players. Both Arsenal and Chelsea paid six figure sums for young midfielders this summer, and Tottenham’s willingness to drop a British record on Bethany England last January showed that this trend is not exclusive to Champions League sides.
Flying Geese is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
FIFA’s 2022 transfer report showed that the annual year on year growth in terms of transfer revenue was an increase of 62%. 65 different clubs outlayed money on transfers. Even if it has now been 18 months since the world record was last broken (not for Arsenal’s want of trying), the market for women’s players is only going in one direction.
This context is crucial to understand why Chelsea and Barcelona have zoned in on recruiting extensively in younger age groups. As two of the best sides in the world, neither team has much issue in attracting players of any age. In Catarina Macario and Ashley Lawrence, Chelsea landed two of the most in-demand free agents last summer, whilst Barcelona did not have to try very hard to bring Ona Batlle home.
They also have thriving academies, with Barcelona’s undoubtedly being the best in the world having produced Alexia Putellas, Aitana Bonmati and Claudia Pina over the past decade. Chelsea have been a bit slower off the mark on this front but the flurry of contracts handed out to players like Ashanti Akpan, Alexia Potter, and Aimee Claypole has shown they see homegrown players as a valuable pipeline too. Aggie Beever-Jones is their first bona fide academy product in a long time to nail down a proper role in the first team squad.1
Clearly neither Chelsea nor Barcelona need to recruit a load of teenagers. So what has been the impetus here? That lies in the growth of the transfer market.