Keira Walsh plays a position which usually goes unnoticed in football – but there is nothing under the radar about Barcelona’s world-record fee to bring the defensive midfielder to the club.
Such is her stature in women’s football that the Spanish giants were prepared to spend almost half a million euros on Walsh, who would have been available for free next year.
The significance of her transfer from Manchester City cannot be understated – just like Walsh’s role on the pitch – because it could spark a change in the women’s market.
When Chelsea spent a fee in excess of £250,000 for Pernille Harder from Wolfsburg in 2020 it was a huge statement of their intent to chase Champions League glory.
But it was seen as a one-off.
This summer, on the back of England’s success at Euro 2022, Women’s Super League players are starting to realise their power within the game.
Since the professionalism of the WSL, players have mostly seen out their contracts with very few clubs willing to pay fees.
Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton have spent more in recent seasons, while Brighton, Aston Villa, Manchester United and Tottenham are also now doing the same.
England international Rachel Daly joined Villa from Houston Dash for a substantial fee this summer, while Manchester United paid for youngsters Maya Le Tissier from Brighton and Grace Clinton from Everton.
But the world-record transfer for Walsh is significant as it shows even the top clubs are not immune to the risk of losing their best players to rivals who are now willing to spend.
Walsh is irreplaceable but City must fill the void and, in order to do so, they will need to lure a midfielder away from a rival – and that costs a lot of money.
How much will City miss Walsh?
Lifelong City fan Walsh, who once said “being a City fan is something that will always live on in me”, had been a mainstay in their midfield since joining the club in 2014.
She made 211 appearances and won eight major trophies with City, including the first of four WSL titles in 2016.
Walsh is a playmaker from a deep midfield position when in possession, while she is a master of reading the game to shield the defence when out of possession.
She was often seen as the catalyst for City’s creative play with her impressive passing range and agility in tight spaces, while her defensive solidity allowed the centre-backs more freedom to play out from the back.
Team-mates at both club and country have often singled out Walsh as their key player, even expressing their disbelief at her name being left off this year’s Ballon d’Or nominations.
When she is missing, it is obvious, though she is not always given the credit when she is heavily involved because of the nature of her position.
But her Player of the Match display in the Euro 2022 final was a demonstration of what she can do on the world stage.
It was therefore no surprise Walsh would accept an approach from Barcelona, who are competing at the highest level for the biggest domestic trophies.
City’s elimination for a second successive season in the qualification rounds of the Champions League earlier this summer to Real Madrid meant Walsh would be denied the opportunity to play in the prestigious competition again.
After winning every domestic title with City, and now a major trophy with England, all that is left is the Champions League – and City have not shown enough to be able to compete for it.
Barcelona have world’s most feared midfield trio
It’s a frightening prospect for Barcelona’s opponents.
The 2021 Champions League winners, alongside Lyon, were already a level above England’s top teams and the majority of their European rivals.
Their midfield already boasts current Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, who is currently sidelined with a serious knee injury, as well as highly-rated Spaniard Aitana Bonmati, who is set to make her 200th appearance for the club in a few weeks at the age of 24.
With Walsh, Barcelona now have arguably the most feared and respected midfield trio in world football.
They created history by winning their first European title in 2021 and completed the domestic treble last year after losing the Champions League final to Lyon.
This deal will only strengthen their hopes of winning a second European crown, while extending their dominance in the Spanish domestic league.