Analysis

Why Chelsea went overboard to sign Lauren James

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Despite Manchester United’s attempts to keep her at the club, 19-year-old Lauren James completed her move to Chelsea last Friday for a record-breaking fee between Women’s Super League clubs. The England international is a highly-rated forward, having risen through the ranks at an early age and establishing herself as a serious talent in Women’s Football.

James was amongst the first names on the team sheet at Man United since the formation of the Women’s team in 2018. Following her arrival from Arsenal W.F.C in 2018, the striker cemented her place in United’s starting line-up under the guidance of former club manager Casey Stoney and helped the team earn a promotion to the WSL.

Lauren James scored 14 goals in 18 championship appearances that season and became the club’s first female goal-scorer in professional football. Subsequently, she also scored United’s first goal in the WSL and became the first woman to net a goal at Old Trafford.

The 19-year-old striker re-joins Chelsea, having been part of their academy through the U-10 to U-14 level before joining Arsenal at the age of 15 in 2017 and signing her first professional contract with Manchester United the following year. Despite her young age, James is a prolific striker with enormous potential. The teenager boasts international experience and is a welcome addition to an already world-class and title-winning Chelsea squad.

Lauren James: Generational Talent

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image credit: @twitter/laurenjamess22

Under Casey Stoney at Manchester United, James was a vital part of the team’s achievements on the pitch. Following their promotion ahead of the 2019/20 season, James finished the campaign as the club’s highest goal-scorer with six goals in 12 appearances. The same year, her performance and consistency at the club level were rewarded with a call-up to the national team for the 2019 UEFA Under-19 Championship.

James has represented England at the U-17 and U-19 levels and received her first senior call-up as part of a training camp last November. The teenager was also shortlisted for the PFA Women’s Young Player of the Year in 2019.

The 19-year-old is a dynamic forward with envious technical ability. Lauren James possesses the ability to not only glide past players but also strike the ball with either foot. The teenager is a versatile forward who can function as a traditional number nine and as a winger with equal consistency. Additionally, she is a clinical striker with exceptional range who is a threat within as well as from outside the box.

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James is the club’s second all-time top scorer with 28 goals – Ella Toone leads the chart with 32 goals. Although having failed to register a full season in the WSL, with injuries limiting her participation in both 2019/20 and the 2020/21 season, the 19-year-old will be eager to put aside her injury woes and be a key part of a formidable Chelsea set-up.

Speaking to chelseafc.com, the team’s manager, Emma Hayes, described James as an “… exciting young talent who we have admired for a while.” She added, “We’re excited to see how she develops in the coming years and look forward to welcoming her to pre-season training.”

Hayes will have a plethora of forward options to choose from going into next season, and it will be interesting to see how the manager fits the newly acquired forward alongside established first-team players in Fran Kirby, Pernille Harder, and Sam Kerr.

On signing for the Blues, James expressed her excitement ahead of joining the team in preparation for next season, “It’s a great feeling to come back home, to a great club, the club I started at the age of six.” She added, “To be able to play for the first team now and come back here to Emma and the rest of the group is a great feeling, I’m excited to get started and I can’t wait to meet all the fans at Kingsmeadow when the new season kicks in.”

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Lauren James will join her brother Reece James at the club, who is a first-team player for the men’s team. James’ move to Chelsea is believed to be worth an initial £200,000, rising to the total sum of £300,000 with add-ons, with Hannah Blundell moving as part of the deal to Manchester United.

James’ departure was an additional blow to Manchester United, who have witnessed multiple first-team players depart the club this summer due to the lack of facilities available to the women’s team and their contract situation. In addition to Stoney having left the club at the end of last season, the club also witnessed the departure of United States Women’s National Team duo Tobin Heath and Christen Press. The squad is rather depleted of players, with the likes of Jess Sigsworth and Abbie McManus also both joining newly-promoted Leicester City and Amy Turner, a consistent defender last season, having completed her move to Orlando Pride.

With Marc Skinner set to be United’s new manager, the club will be keen on improving next season having finished in fourth place, ten points behind current champions Chelsea and a point behind third-place Arsenal, last season. Nevertheless, James will be raring to go next season and certainly add firepower to an already prolific Chelsea forward line.

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