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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Alan Campbell

Larisey loss to Sweden a reminder of how far SWPL still lags behind

WHEN Anna Signeul was approached to be Scotland’s head coach, her initial reaction was to turn the job down. She knew the game here was two decades behind women’s football in her native Sweden – and didn’t fancy having to fight the same battles all over again.

Fortunately, the then Scottish FA head of girls’ and women’s football. Sheila Begbie, persuaded Signeul to change her mind. A game-transforming, if often bruising, 12 years followed, culminating in the Swede leading the country she came to love to a first major championship in 2017.

There was a reminder of Scotland’s place in the European pecking order when it was announced on Monday that Celtic had agreed to the transfer of striker Clarissa Larisey to top Swedish side Hacken for an undisclosed fee. The reality, as Fran Alonso acknowledged, is that the Canada internationalist is moving to a more professional, and certainly far more developed, footballing environment.

“The player wished to go – the [Canadian] national team was pushing for her to play in one of the strongest leagues,” the Celtic manager told me. “We got an amazing fee, and if we didn’t take it the player is going to go for free in six months.

“Most of the national team

managers advise players from here to play abroad, unfortunately. It’s about investment. We have to promote the game better and then we will become one of the strongest leagues.

“When the passion and the finance is there there’s no reason why it wouldn’t be. At this moment the

Scottish league is way behind some of the top leagues in Europe.”

The reason, of course, is that the main men’s brands have taken so long to take their women’s teams seriously, far less invest in them. The 20-year lag behind Sweden is only now starting to be addressed.

Larisey was top scorer in the SWPL with 12 goals when she departed – Lauren Davidson overtook her on Wednesday night with a double in Glasgow City’s win over Spartans – but despite this Alonso doesn’t believe her transfer will scupper Celtic’s chances of winning a first title.

“Because we’ve got a bigger squad, and a very good squad, I don’t think our chances have been affected,” he pointed out. “On top of that, there are at least a couple of players more that are coming in and they will increase the quality of the team considerably.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s a big loss and we’re going to miss Clarissa, but her leaving is a win-win for all three parties. We wish her all the best and we will be supporting her at the World Cup. Now it’s an opportunity for someone else.”

Celtic go into today’s game at Glasgow Women six points behind leaders City, but will play their game in hand against Motherwell on Wednesday. One more player – although not, Alonso assures me, Jacynta Galabadaarachchi – may leave before the end of the window, but against that the other two or three will arrive.

CELTIC will also be without Olivia Chance for today’s game and the next two against Motherwell and Partick Thistle. Somewhat surprisingly, the club released her to join the New Zealand squad for home friendlies against the USA this week.

There was no obligation to do so. The games are not being played in an international window. Understandably in these circumstances, Rangers goalkeeper Vic Esson and Glasgow City defender Meikayla Moore will not be travelling. So why Celtic’s magnanimity, especially with Larisey having just departed?

“We had a conversation with their national team coach and internally with the club,” Alonso explained. “We always want to support our players, and on top of that we have a very big squad.

“The World Cup being played in New Zealand means the world to her. It was a very good thing to do.”

THE reason Eileen Gleeson and Glasgow City parted company last month was made public on Thursday. As heavily hinted here and on social media, the former No.2 to Vera Pauw at the Republic of Ireland is now the FAI’s first-ever head of girls’ and women’s football.

There’s still no word from the SWPL leaders on how they intend to replace Gleeson on a permanent basis. Interim head coach Leanne Ross has won her opening two games 4-0, and a prominent player told me last Sunday that she very much welcomes the regime change.

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