Analysts, footage and better scouting - why more Asian players are joining the WSL

1 week ago 15
Riko Ueki playing for West HamRiko Ueki has started recent WSL victories over Arsenal and Bristol City up front for West Ham

Stars from all over the world have come to play in the Women's Super League - but there has been a recent influx of players from Asia who are starting to steal the show.

Investment in scouting, more women's football broadcast globally on television and greater competition in the transfer market, mean clubs have started to look further afield for talent.

The Asian market has become increasingly more attractive with several January signings adding to the WSL's quality.

South Korea's Ji So-yun, who won six league titles with Chelsea, was one of the first Asian players to make her mark in the WSL and she has since been joined by the likes of Japan's Yui Hasegawa, now at Manchester City.

And a flurry of new additions from Asia have caught the eye.

"I think you will see more and more Japanese players and you can see why," said Manchester City boss Gareth Taylor, who signed Hasegawa from West Ham in 2022.

"We've seen a little bit of an influx more recently. They're very disciplined and coachable, their level of intensity is good and their level of game understanding is very, very high - but obviously every player is different.

"Yui [Hasegawa] gives us so many things. She's a highly intelligent footballer. The way she reads the game is second to none. I think she's an incredible talent."

'They have added huge value to our team'

Among those to join the WSL recently are Liverpool's Fuka Nagano, Tottenham's Shuang Wang, West Ham's Riko Ueki and Leicester City duo Saori Takarada and Yuka Momiki.

The most high-profile was Hinata Miyazawa's move to Manchester United, fresh from picking up the Golden Boot with Japan at last summer's Women's World Cup.

However, it is Nagano who has very quickly become a fan-favourite on Merseyside with her cheeky personality and attempts at 'Scouse slang'. More importantly, she has impressed on the pitch since arriving in January 2023.

"Fuka reads the game so well. She's just a wonderful football player," said Liverpool boss Matt Beard.

"If you look at the way Japan play, tactically they are very clever and technically, they are very good. How the WSL is now with teams playing out from the back, because of the brand of football Japan play, [it helps] us."

Chelsea manager Emma Hayes, who signed hugely popular midfielder Ji a decade ago, says it is "good to bring diversity into the league", adding that it poses different challenges for her players.

Hayes thinks more clubs now have the ability to attract talent from further afield than ever before.

West Ham, for example, have three Asian players in their squad after signing Japan striker Ueki in September.

"The fact that it's become more accessible for them to come to the UK is obviously the reason why the number of Japanese players in the league has increased," said West Ham manager Rehanne Skinner.

"Who wouldn't want tactically bright and technically gifted players? They have added huge value to our team."

More footage, specialist analysts and improved salaries

Willie Kirk and Saori TakaradaLeicester boss Willie Kirk (left) signed two Japanese players in January including Saori Takarada (right)

While Skinner was aware of Ueki's talent through her international football experience, Leicester boss Willie Kirk admitted he came across Momiki while scouting Japanese team-mate Takarada.

"We weren't necessarily looking for Asian players, we were just looking for a top-class number six and we found that in Takarada. We watched her for about six months at Linkoping and really liked her," added Kirk.

"We tried to buy her in the summer and couldn't agree a deal with Linkoping but pre-contracted her. I thought she had a fantastic game against Arsenal in the Champions League.

"As we were watching more of Takarada, we saw Momiki. We just thought it was too good an opportunity to turn down. They're both terrifically talented players."

Greater accessibility to television footage of games has made a difference despite ongoing restrictions on which players are eligible for international visas in the WSL.

"Scouting resources have increased dramatically in terms of what we can get from footage," added Kirk. "We've also got two fantastic analysts. That certainly helps to identify players."

As well as increased footage, improved salaries have changed the landscape of the WSL transfer window, making a change of continent and huge upheaval far more appealing to players.

These factors have led to an injection of Asian talent in England and given the success of the recent arrivals this trend is only likely to continue.

Read Entire Article