From Kerr to Skinner: our WSL awards of the 2021-22 season | Sophie Downey
Player of the season
“Sam Kerr is inevitable” – that is the caption that flies around social media most weekends. When the Australian striker is on the pitch for Chelsea, there is little doubt about the outcome. Despite standout seasons from players across the league, including an honourable mention for Arsenal’s Beth Mead, Kerr stands apart from the rest. Twenty goals in 20 games leaves her with the FAWSL Golden Boot. However, it’s not just the sheer number that she scores but the importance of those goals. Whether it’s the header against Tottenham to pull a 10-player Chelsea back into the game or her sublime volley on the spin to complete the final-day comeback against Manchester United, she appeared in the biggest moments to help Emma Hayes’s side to retain the title.
Manager of the season
When Rehanne Skinner took over the Tottenham role in November 2020, they were stuck in a potential relegation battle. By the end of the season, she had guided Spurs to eighth place and clear of any danger. However, no one could have predicted the heights they would reach this season under her calm stewardship. They swapped fighting relegation for a Champions League race, beating Manchester City and earning draws with Arsenal and Manchester United. Skinner is never one to get carried away, she has too much footballing intelligence for that. Despite their form fading over the past few weeks, not helped by a backlog of games, a thin squad and injuries to key players, she led her side to an impressive fifth-place finish.
Best young player
One of the best parts of each season is seeing young players come to the forefront. Whether it was Maya Le Tissier playing every FAWSL minute for Brighton or Emma Harries’ strong run of form for Reading, there have been plenty of glimpses into the future. Once again, however, it is difficult to look past Lauren Hemp as the standout. Still only 21, the England winger has been an integral part of Manchester City’s success in the second half of the year. Her ability to take on defenders is second to none and she’s added even more goals to her game, finishing the season with 10 and six assists.
Kerr v Aston Villa
Many will look at Arsenal’s defeat against Birmingham as the key moment of the season, but Chelsea’s injury-time win against Aston Villa was equally important. Carla Ward’s Villa side put in a resilient performance that day at Kingsmeadow that ruffled Chelsea’s feathers. But just as it looked like the title pendulum would swing back in Arsenal’s favour, the inevitable happened. In the 92nd minute, Kerr popped up in the right place to break Villa’s hearts. The celebration said it all – Brandi Chastain-esque as the shirt came off and she raced towards an ecstatic Hayes.
New faces have once again added quality across the league. Yui Hasegawa has been a diamond for West Ham; Hannah Blundell and Molly Bartrip have become stalwarts for Manchester United and Tottenham respectively. However, Louise Quinn’s standout performances across the season have caught the eye. When Quinn arrived at Birmingham alongside a new manager and a raft of new faces, the task appeared immense. Ultimately, relegation came, but in a tumultuous season Quinn added calm leadership to her side and earned the praise of many. Her defensive qualities are clear to see, most notably winning player of the match in defeat to Manchester United. With five goals to her name, she also shone at the other end of the field, finishing as Birmingham’s top scorer.
Caroline Weir v Manchester United
Picking one goal out of a season is the hardest task, especially with the quality that has been on show this term. Caroline Weir’s wonder goal in the Manchester derby is right at the top, almost an exact replica of her strike in the same game last year. This time, it ensured the three points stayed with City, a win that proved vital to them gaining Champions League qualification. Elsewhere, Katie McCabe’s hit against Aston Villa was a hand-over-your-mouth moment, while Kerr’s final-day volley against United is one to have on repeat.
Manchester United v Manchester City
The FAWSL this year was topped and tailed by two of the best games of the campaign. Arsenal’s 3-2 win against Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium was a scintillating display of football. Meanwhile, Chelsea’s comeback against an invigorated Manchester United on the final day was one of the most dramatic ends to a football season you will see. Sandwiched in the middle, however, was a Manchester derby filled with suspense befitting the fixture. After Georgia Stanway took an early shower for a high challenge, City took the lead against the odds through Bunny Shaw. United fought back and looked to have made their numerical advantage count as Lucy Staniforth and Alessia Russo scored quickly. But City refused to be beaten, Ellen White popping up late on as she does so often to ensure the points were shared.