Last season Chioma Ubogagu helped Real Madrid women qualify for the Champions League for the first time but now the sometime England striker’s heart is set on helping Rehanne Skinner fulfil a dream in North London. “Rehanne’s someone who has a vision for Tottenham,” says a forward capped three times under Phil Neville. “And I love her vision.”
Since Skinner arrived in north London last November as the successor to her joint managerial predecessors, Karen Hills and Juan Amoros, she has never been shy about setting out her manifesto for change at a club promoted to the WSL in 2019.
“Tottenham can be one of the best women’s teams in the world,” says the pro-licence holder who, albeit briefly, served as Neville’s England assistant. “And there’s so much work going on behind the scenes to ensure we get there. It’s a journey and it’s going to take a bit of time but we’re determined to complete it.”
Evolving teams tend to bedevilled by inconsistency and that proved the case for Spurs last season. After winning her first three games in charge, Skinner’s side turned somewhat erratic and were probably relieved to end up finishing eighth. Now with a full pre-season behind her featuring a significant overhaul of the squad, Tottenham’s manager will expect an improvement during her first full campaign. If the loss of Australia’s Alanna Kennedy to Manchester City weakens the backline, at least Spurs have retained their defensive linchpin, and Olympic gold medal-winning captain, Canada’s Shelina Zadorsky. She will receive assistance from the experienced Molly Bartrip, newly joined from Reading.
Further forward, a newly sharpened attack featuring Ubogagu, China’s Tang Jiali and Australia’s Kyah Simon promises goals. Tang, on loan from Shanghai Shengli, will wear the No 9 shirt but scored freely in the Chinese Super League from a slightly deeper-lying playmaking role, drifting in the blurred lines between attack and midfield.
At 30, Simon is a vastly experienced striker who won trophies galore in Australia and the United States before helping PSV Eindhoven finish second in last season’s Eredivisie Vrouwen. Like her two new fellow strikers, Simon was attracted by not merely the WSL but the vastly impressive infrastructure at the Hotspur Way training facility the squad share with Nuno Espírito Santo’s men.
Skinner has described last winter’s integration of the genders as “a statement of intent” and this belief is endorsed by the staging of this season’s opening home game against Birmingham at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Most fixtures will still take place at The Hive, Barnet’s well-appointed, welcoming home, but playing at a ground that good must have felt a near-impossible dream when Skinner was growing up in Whitby and travelling more than 30 miles each way across the North Yorkshire Moors to train with her nearest club in Middlesbrough.
She has used her extensive knowledge and contacts to recruit some of the country’s brightest young talents. These include Asmita Ale, a versatile 19-year-old defender who rejected a new contract at Aston Villa after being voted the club’s players’ player of the year.
The acquisitions of Eleanor Heeps and Gracie Pearse seem similarly far-sighted. Heeps, the England Under-19 goalkeeper, joined from Liverpool only to be immediately borrowed by Blackburn for the coming campaign, and Pearse, an 18-year-old defender, has been loaned straight back to Crystal Palace.
Tottenham’s evolution may take some time but it is well under way.
Rehanne Skinner She is starting her first full season in charge after taking over early last term from Karen Hills and Juan Amoros. Skinner did well to keep Spurs in the WSL last season but will need to find the consistency the team are missing to progress.
Shelina Zadorsky The Canadian defender won a gold medal in Tokyo and doesn’t just shine on an international stage – she impressed in her first season for Spurs last term. She was first brought in on loan but her performances earned a permanent deal last January.
Tang Jiali The loanee said it was a dream come true to play in England and her performances make her a dream signing for Spurs. The China international managed eight goals in 15 appearances for Shanghai Shengli last season and she could be the key to unlock Spurs’ potential up front.
Rosella Ayane The forward may not have found the net as much as she would have liked last season, scoring once in the WSL, but she is at the centre of Spurs’ creativity. Her skill was noted as she was given a new deal in May.