Manchester United are expected to seal the long-awaited signing of Sweden striker Stina Blackstenius in January as they look to strengthen for the second half of the WSL season.
United lost five forwards from their squad during the summer, including Lauren James, Tobin Heath and Christen Press, but only brought in Martha Thomas by way of a replacement.
It has made it all the more impressive that the Red Devils have still managed 19 goals in 10 WSL games so far in 2021/22 – only Arsenal and Chelsea have scored more. However, that relative lack of firepower has prevented them from competing any closer at the top of the table.
The burden for goals has fallen to Ella Toone, who has risen to the challenge well and was named PFA Vertu Motors WSL Fans’ Player of the Month for October, and Alessia Russo, who has seriously impressed since returning to full fitness after an injury-plagued debut campaign.
A lack of depth beyond those two has been an issue. But the likely arrival of Blackstenius during the January transfer window should change that.
The Swede is a proven goalscorer at the highest level, having played in the Champions League for BK Hacken this season and winning two Olympic silver medals and a World Cup bronze medal. She will be a free agent as of 1 January following the conclusion of the 2021 Swedish club campaign.
Regional Swedish newspaper GT has reported that Blackstenius will make a final decision on her future ‘within a week’ but that all signs point to a to move to England – she has previously spoken positively about the WSL as being a good fit for her.
BBC Sport has taken that further and claims a move to United is now ‘expected’.
Moving to Manchester would finally bring the saga to a close, as it is thought that the club were initially interested in trying to sign Blackstenius during the summer.
However, with positive news, comes potentially bad news as BBC Sport also notes interest in Russo from new NWSL club San Diego Wave, where ex-United boss Casey Stoney is head coach.
The Wave will debut in 2022, with the campaign beginning with the annual Challenge Cup in March. Stoney’s departure from United earlier this year included an agreement that she couldn’t sign any of her former players for six months, which has now passed.
Russo only has a contract at United until the end of the season, but the club still has the option to extend it into a third year. That could ensure she stays put or at the very least mean that a transfer fee, likely a sizeable one given her quality, age and long-term potential, is required.
Russo joined the club under Stoney last season and initially impressed until injury hampered her progress. She has returned to full fitness in 2021/22 and has thrived as an all-encompassing ‘number nine’ and attacking focal point in Marc Skinner’s United side. As such, she has been named in 90min’s WSL team of the week for both of December’s game-weeks.
Whether Russo’s prior connection to the United States, having spent three years playing college soccer with the legendary University of North Carolina Tar Heels, will have any bearing on her future plans to stay in England, remains to be seen.