THE new FA WSL season, which got underway yesterday when Manchester City beat newly-promoted Aston Villa 2-0, has the potential to be transformational for women’s football in England.

Chelsea’s midweek capture of Pernille Harder, for what may have been a record women’s transfer fee of £270,000, was merely the latest in an unprecedented influx of big names. They include a flurry of loan signings from NWSL clubs, among them USA World Cup winners Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis at Manchester City, as well as Scotland captain Rachel Corsie, who has joined Birmingham.

Everton, the only top English club with a Scottish manager, have also been busy. Their multiple signings include striker Valerie Gauvin, who scored twice for France at the World Cup, as well as Scotland winger Claire Emslie, on loan from Orlando Pride.

The latter re-unites with Everton manager Willie Kirk and his assistant Chris Roberts. For Kirk, whose first sighting of Emslie was as a 15-year-old at Hibernian, the campaign will be both a massive challenge and an opportunity to build on the club’s sixth-place finish in the truncated 2019-20 season.

Everton travel to Bristol City this afternoon and then host Tottenham next Sunday. As well as their summer signings they have two more from the January window who have yet to play a competitive game but are available now – England midfielder Izzy Christiansen and Australian winger Hayley Raso.

“One thing that is very noticeable is that every team has strengthened,” Kirk said. “The league is going to be so tough, but the fixture list has been relatively kind to us for the first two games.”

Everton, like the other top clubs, are spending unprecedented sums. Their women’s team sporting and commercial director is Sarvar Ismailov, a nephew of Russian oligarch and multi-billionaire Alisher Usmanov. He is just part of a new leadership team designed to propel Everton onwards and upwards.

“They said they were ambitious when I came here, but I probably didn’t realise how ambitious,” Kirk admitted. “That brings pressure, which is good.

“We have to push on from last year when we were top six. Now the minimum requirement is top five, because we have to be seen to progress.”

The signing of 24-year-old Gauvin is an example of how the club now operates.

“We definitely needed an out-and-out 9 with a proven record,” the manager said. “We heard Montpellier might be willing to sell because she was going into the last 12 months of her contract. She was interesting a lot of other teams also, but they were all waiting for her contract to run down. We eventually agreed a price with Montpellier, although we did walk away from it at one point and turned our attention to a second target.

“We got far down the line with that, but then it got delayed and Valerie herself did a lot of work with Montpellier to resurrect the deal. We felt we had to bite the bullet and pay a bit of money to get it done, because we’re probably not in a position where we could compete for an out-of-contract player with the type of teams who would be interested.”

Bringing Emslie to the club brought the quota of wingers up to four. The 26-year-old, another who scored at the World Cup, is initially on loan until January, but that could be extended.

“She brings directness and unpredictability, as well as an infectious work rate and enthusiasm for training,” Kirk said. “She’s in early and doing 15-20 minute individual work before training starts, and now you can see other players joining her.

“Claire is the closest we’ve got to replacing Chloe Kelly [another Manchester City signing]. She’s a bit unpredictable, can cut in from the left-hand side and shoot from distance, but first and foremost she’s a great person and I trust her because I’ve worked with her a number of times now.”

A young midfielder who Ismailov identified, Damaris Egurrola, became Everton’s seventh summer signing when she joined from Athletic Bilbao on Tuesday. The Barcelona target will provide further competition for places, but despite all the new arrivals former Hibs midfielder Lucy Graham retains the captaincy.

Kirk’s personal circumstances changed at the end of July when his partner Jade gave birth to the couple’s first child, Finley. It was, despite the pandemic, the culmination of a busy few months for the couple.

“We got a dog, moved house, got engaged, had the baby – so many things happened,” the proud father said. “It’s just a shame we’ve not been able to celebrate a lot of that with people.”

Despite Everton’s investment in players, Kirk believes Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal still have the destiny of the title between them – and are also favourites to claim the three Champions League places which will now be available to English clubs.

“They’re still out on their own with the money they’re paying and the squads they’ve assembled.” Kirk said. “I love that Chelsea are bringing in players like Harder – to come up against these players is a fantastic challenge.

“If you look at the resources Chelsea have got they could win the Champions League. Lyon are formidable, but they’ve got an ageing team and even they are starting to lose players now.”