Fears of a stop-start return to action has left many Women’s Super League players mentally “checked out” and desperate for the season to be ended, according to a leading women’s football agent.
A&V Sports’ Alan Naigeon believes not knowing the future of the season and mixed messages from clubs have compounded the problems facing the game. “We’re getting to a point where a lot of players are just losing their motivation,” said Naigeon, whose agency represents Ada Hegerberg and Sam Kerr.
“A lot of WSL players don’t want to restart because they’ve checked out mentally. They don’t want to go through another pre-season. And if they are going to go through one they just want it to be meaningful, not to just go and play two games and get stopped again. It’s hard on them.”
Concern for the welfare of the players he represents and over their lack of input in the decision-making process has been extremely frustrating. “Every morning I receive texts from players, like Sam Kerr, who Chelsea are being very patient with, asking when they are going to resume. Then I have a player at Brighton who is telling me that her club wants her back in two weeks,” Naigeon said.
“The players do not want to restart, 100%. We see some of the messages clubs send to their players trying to pressure them into coming back to the UK to get ready to train and it’s like: at what point do we realise that this is just football? Yes, it’s a job but it’s also just football.”
It is not only players in WSL who are suffering. The Guardian’s 2018 footballer of the year, Khadija “Bunny” Shaw, is also represented by Naigeon. “This is a crazy example,” he said of the Bordeaux forward. “Bunny Shaw is in Jamaica, the situation there is good but they are being careful. Bunny is in quarantine, a week ago the club wanted her to return.
“That means we had to find a flight that would leave from Jamaica – impossible. When she arrived in France she would have to quarantine for two weeks, when she was done with the quarantine if for any reason France were to cancel the league, which they then did, she would have had to return to Jamaica and quarantine again.
“Her club were ready for her to return even though there was the chance she would have to quarantine for 28 days and take two long flights at great risk with the league unlikely to restart. In my head I’m wondering whether the person on the phone asking her to do that would do it themselves.”
A lack of alignment between the leagues globally is a problem unique to professional women’s football. A number of players piece an income together by, say, playing a season in the NWSL in the United States or a European league and then the W-League in Australia. However new start and end dates to seasons, with some cancelled and others in limbo, are pushing them out of sync. “Players are being impacted,” Naigeon said.
One player represented by Naigeon now finds herself stuck between leagues and is back in England without a club. “She was in Australia until March then the season was cancelled,” he explained. In the space of two months she has gone from expecting to be able to play across back-to-back leagues, to being back home and unable to sign for a club in Europe until August or possibly even later. She is having to get through the period from March onwards with no pay.”