The 10 Most Influential Players and Coaches from 10 Years of Women’s Super League

The 10 Most Influential Players and Coaches from 10 Years of Women’s Super League

Celebrating the most important players and coaches from a decade of WSL football.

April 13th 2021

Football is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Women’s Super League, the top flight of women’s football in England. In the last decade we’ve witnessed 784 matches and 2375 goals. We’ve seen homegrown talent in the form of Kelly Smith MBE and Ellen White tear up the scene, paving the way for a new generation of talent like Georgia Stanway and Lauren James.

We’ve moved from a time where players had side hustles, held down second jobs, paid subs, and managers made jam sandwiches and acted as coach drivers – big up former Spurs manager Karen Hills – to a fully professional league. The WSL has witnessed some historic sporting moments and has attracted world class talent since its inception in 2011.

To date, 726 players from 33 nations have stepped foot on English soil to show the world what they’re made of. Double Olympic and World Cup Champion Carli Lloyd graced us with her silky touch in 2017, and South Korean international Ji So-Yun has been redefining what it means to be tekky since signing for Chelsea in 2014.

We can also mention names like Sam Kerr, Rose Lavelle, Catilin Foord, Valerie Gauvin, Tobin Heath, Bethany England...the list is endless. The WSL is now one of the most important and competitive leagues in the world.

We’ve shortlisted 10 of the most influential people who have helped make the WSL what we know and love today.

1. Jill Scott

Years active: 2011 – now
Clubs: Everton, Manchester City

A champion of the people and a menace in midfield, the Sunderland lass has notched up a whopping 157 League appearances in the last decade, a League record. Scott’s been a WSL runner-up a heartbreaking five times with Manchester City, but bagged the win in 2016 with The Citizens, one of only four teams to have won the League in the last decade. There are some players you never want to see leave the beautiful game, and Scott is one of them.

2. Eniola Aluko

Years active: 2012 – 2018
Clubs: Birmingham City, Chelsea

When the WSL was founded in 2011, Aluko was bossing things Stateside but she found her way back to England in 2012 with Birmingham City. One of the finest English talents of the modern era, Aluko is best remembered in the WSL for her time at Chelsea, winning three titles, was named in the PFA team of the year twice, and won the Golden Boot in 2016. After leaving West London for Juventus for the final chapter of her playing career, she’s now putting her off-pitch influence to use at Aston Villa as Sporting Director. Having spent years studying law while playing at the highest level, Aluko is using her voice to fight for greater equality in the women’s game.

3. Casey Stoney

Years active: 2011 – now
Clubs: Lincoln, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United

Stoney’s influence on the beautiful game pre-dates the formation of the WSL, but the former defender and current Manchester United manager has also had some iconic League moments. A WSL runners-up medal in 2012 with Lincoln Ladies encouraged Stoney to rejoin Arsenal after a 12-year hiatus, desperate to win more silverware. Stoney bagged herself a WSL Champions medal in 2015, and saw out the rest of her playing career at Liverpool before joining Phil Neville’s England coaching staff in 2018. Stoney’s winning ways followed her to Manchester United, where she managed the team to WSL promotion in their maiden season. An honest critic, Stoney’s routinely questioned the standard of refereeing in the WSL and its level of coverage. Most recently she highlighted the failure to broadcast United’s first ever match at Old Trafford.

4. Gilly Flaherty

Years active: 2011 – now
Clubs: Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham

Back in 2011, there were plenty of powerhouse strikers desperate to score the first WSL goal. Nobody would have guessed Gilly Flaherty would be the player to earn that title. Only 19 at the time, the Arsenal defender found herself on the end of Kim Little’s corner, scoring the winner against Chelsea. The centre back has won three WSL titles in her career, but perhaps her biggest contribution to the game came about in 2020 when she opened up about her ongoing battle with mental health. Last year Flaherty spoke about her attempted suicide as a teenager. Being away from family as a youngster, and constantly fighting to break into the first team at Arsenal weighed heavy. At the time she was also struggling to come to terms with her sexuality. Feeling as if there was no way out, Flaherty attempted to take her own life. The FA’s Heads Up campaign encouraged Flaherty to share her story, and in doing so she has helped others seek support.

5. Vivianne Miedema

Years active: 2017 – now
Clubs: Arsenal

Do you know what Vivianne Miedema spells backwards? ‘Record Breaker’…at least it should do. Since 2017, the Dutch striker has scored almost 90 goals in as many appearances across all competitions for Arsenal. The back-to-back WSL Golden Boot winner became the first player to score 50 league goals. So far this season, Miedema’s scored 17 goals in 18 appearances, meaning she’s on course for a third successive Golden Boot win. In 2019, she helped Arsenal pick up the biggest WSL victory after thrashing Bristol City 11-1. Miedema scored 6 and assisted 4 that day. For fans everywhere, Miedema is a good enough reason alone to follow the WSL. And with stats like that, can you blame them?

6. Rachel Yankey

Years active: 2011 – 2016
Clubs: Arsenal, Notts County

Yankey is a trailblazer. The first player to sign an FA professional contract, she ended her career with 5 Premier Leagues, 11 FA Cups, 7 Premier League Cups, 1 UEFA Women’s Cup and two WSL titles towards the end of her career. Despite being one of the most technically gifted players to hail from this country – making 129 England appearances, at one time more than any other player ever – she still faced discrimination. As a youngster she shaved her hair off and called herself Ray, an acronym for Rachel Aba Yankey, so she could continue to play on a boys’ team and at the tender age of 8 she remembers hearing whispers from spectators – parents – about her appearance. These whispers soon turned into direct verbal abuse, most notably during a Champions League game against Rayo Vallecano. Yankey’s always spoken openly about her experiences of sexism and racism, and continues to be an advocate for change in football. Legend on the pitch, legend off it.

7. Matt Beard

Years active: 2011 – now
Clubs: Chelsea, Liverpool, West Ham, Bristol

Matt Beard was appointed Liverpool Manager in 2013 and my word did he make his mark. Two of possibly the most iconic moments in WSL history occurred under the management of Beardy. The first moment being Liverpool’s WSL title in 2013, a win that ended Arsenal’s dominance and prevented the Gunners from winning a third consecutive title. The second moment occurred in 2014, when Liverpool retained their title on goal difference. A first for the League. Beard has been one of the WSL’s most impactful coaches, tasting success at the highest level and developing players like Lucy Bronze, Rachel Daly and Alisha Lehmann. Right now, he’s attempting the impossible: bringing Bristol City back from the brink of relegation.

8. Fara Williams

Years active: 2011 – now
Clubs: Everton, Liverpool, Arsenal, Reading

Fara Williams was part of the Liverpool squad that ended Arsenal’s nine-year dominance of women’s football. In 2013, Williams won the WSL with the Reds and reclaimed the title again in 2014. The 37-year old is still going strong with Reading having signed a new contract with the side in 2019. But England’s most capped player – just the 172 caps – spent years of her playing career homeless. With the support of the FA, Williams was hired as a Skills Coach and worked for the Homeless FA Charity and even helped select the England squad for the Homeless World Cup. A proud member of the LGBTQ+ community and long-term supporter of The Rainbow Laces campaign, Williams has continued to be a beacon of shining light for football’s next generation.

9. Nikita Parris

Years active: 2011 – 2019
Clubs: Everton, Manchester City

Lil Keetz made her WSL debut at 17 in 2011, after a year already playing for Everton’s senior team. In 2014 she scored 11 goals in 19 games for Everton before the side were relegated. Keetz signed for Manchester City in 2015 and won the WSL the following year. During the 2017/18 campaign she scored 11 goals, followed by 19 in as many games the following season. Up until last year she held the record for most WSL goals with 49 in total. She joined Olympique Lyon in 2019 and picked up the Champions League crown last year. At only 27-years-old, we suspect the WSL hasn’t seen the last of this baller.

10. Emma Hayes

Years active: 2012 – now
Clubs: Chelsea

Hayes belongs to a generation of coaches who spent time across the pond honing their trade before coming back to England to rewrite the script. After losing to Liverpool in 2013, Hayes made the decision to shake up the Chelsea squad and bring in the likes of Swedish shot stopper Hedvig Lindahl and England’s Millie Bright. She also signed forward Fran Kirby for an English record fee from Reading, a decision that helped to win the WSL in 2015. 2017 saw Hayes add Ramona Bachmann, Maren Mjelde, Erin Cuthbert and World Cup winner Crystal Dunn to the roster. Yes, they won the WSL that year too. Hayes has won the WSL title three times with Chelsea, the only other club to do so is Arsenal. Under her leadership, Chelsea were the first club to tailor training schedules around players’ menstrual cycles. A decision that prevents injury, aids recovery and allows players to perform at their optimum.