Why Russo is worth more to Man Utd than Arsenal’s world-record bid – even if she only stays six more months
If a player is out of contract in six months’ time and a club comes in with a good fee for them, most would cash in.
But when Arsenal offered Manchester United a sum of money that would’ve made Alessia Russo the most expensive female footballer of all time, the Red Devils’ answer was unequivocal: No.
On the one hand, it may seem like madness for the club to turn down such a big fee for a player who may not even still be there come the summer.
However, to sell your top goalscorer, your starting No.9, while top of the league and in a position to secure Women’s Champions League football for the first time would be even crazier.
Despite Russo rejecting United’s first contract renewal last summer – before her stock rose at Euro 2022 as she scored four goals from the bench to help England lift the trophy – and both parties not coming to an agreement since, there is still a chance the club could keep the Lionesses’ new first-choice centre forward.
"I will try everything in our power to do so,” Marc Skinner, United’s head coach, said this week. "There are definitely parts we need to work out but, actually, I think she has a real love for this club and we have a real love for her.
"I would be very hopeful and we're going to try to work off the field to do that. But on the field, Alessia and I will continue to work towards this club's success.
"She wants to win here. I can't speak any more highly of her attitude. She just gets on with her job.”
But the key in all of that is whether Russo can win at United. This is one of Europe’s most exciting young forwards. She’s a player of top quality and players of that ilk want to play for clubs that can offer European football and chances to lift trophies.
United may have only relaunched its women’s team in 2018, but any team associated with this club is ambitious and immediately has high expectations.
The team has still yet to secure Women’s Champions League football, finishing a point shy of the top three in 2020-21 and five points adrift last season. It’s also yet to seriously challenge for a major honour, losing three Continental Cup semi-finals in four years and still to progress past the quarter-final stages in the FA Cup.
Now, despite not yet celebrating a fifth birthday, United’s women’s team has developed to a point where the next step is to get into Europe and reach those cup finals.
The quality is there and this season has shown that. Top of the table at the halfway stage of the WSL campaign, there is no pressure on United to be there come the end of it, but to slip out of the top three would certainly be an almighty failure.
Clinical from @alessiarusso7! 🔥— Barclays Women's Super League (@BarclaysWSL) January 15, 2023
Toone ➡️ Russo 🤩 How many times have we seen them two combine! 🥵#BarclaysWSL @ManUtdWomen pic.twitter.com/xp20rjQ84R
Russo has led the line well, scoring five times in nine games having missed two due to injury. Ella Toone, her partner-in-crime who has signed a new contract this season, has been at her creative best with seven assists.
It could be said that another two England internationals, Katie Zelem and Mary Earps, are playing the best football of their respective careers right now. Leah Galton, too, could come into that category.
In defence, Maya Le Tissier has been a superb addition – especially at 20 years old – and Ona Batlle remains the best right-back in the division.
The potential is there for this team to not only do something great this year, but in the years to come as well. To sell Russo would be counter-productive to those ambitions.
"What's clear from this window is that, as Manchester United, we don't want to be a selling club," Skinner said. "We want to be a team that builds to try and push for titles. We're a club that has fierce ambition."
With this team, with the foundation of the first half of this season, United can get European football. They also have an opportunity to show that they have the potential to challenge for trophies now, rather than a few years down the line.
Then, they can focus on what the next steps are to continue to take this team forward and make it into the winning team that the badge demands.
If they can achieve this season’s goals first and foremost, not only could they potentially keep Russo but also Batlle, who is also out of contract and constantly linked with a return to Barcelona, while attracting more top talent.
If they tick all the boxes and those players still leave, there should be no regrets about not cashing in, either. Securing European football and making a statement about where this club can go is much, much more important than a pocketing a few quid.
For what it would mean for the future of Manchester United’s women’s team, Russo’s goals and what she can bring for at least the next six months is much bigger than a world-record fee.