Steph Catley’s arrival from Melbourne City this summer is one of the most exciting captures of an eventful WSL transfer window. With the likes of Tobin Heath, Christen Press, Pernille Harder, Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle coming into the league for the 2019-20 season, there is a frisson of excitement around a league that, this week, secured overseas TV rights deals with NBC and DAZN.
26-year old Catley’s name belongs in the aforementioned company. Arguably the best left-back in the world, the Australian international has played under Gunners boss Joe Montemurro before in his native Melbourne and she joins fellow Aussies Caitlin Foord and Lydia Williams at Arsenal. “It’s nice to have someone you trust at a club that you are going to because they’ll give you an honest opinion to what you’re going into,” Steph tells me. “It’s harder to go into a club blind.
“Having Joe and Caitlin [Foord] here I value their opinions very highly and they were telling me good things. I have worked with Joe before and I know the way that he likes to play football and that philosophy works with the way that I like to play football. It was something I wanted to be a part of and Arsenal is a huge club with so much history. It was an easy decision because it just felt right in my gut.”
Catley is part of an influx of Australian internationals into the WSL with the majority of the Matildas squad having moved to England in the last six months. The W-League in Australia only runs for three months of the year, which means most elite Australian players have been combining playing in the W-League with the NWSL in America, which runs in the months that the W-League doesn’t. The result is a gruelling, 11-month season with inter-continental travel a plenty.
— NWSL (@NWSL) June 27, 2017
The WSL enables the Matildas to step off that treadmill, reduce their travelling time and their load. It also affords them the novelty of a pre-season, though Steph tells me her pre-season with Arsenal was scuppered by injury. “It was actually pretty frustrating because I picked up a calf injury early in pre-season so I missed a big chunk of it, which was soooo annoying because that was one of the things I was most looking forward to because I haven’t done a proper pre-season in so long.”
The injury meant that she missed all of Arsenal’s pre-season friendlies and was only fit enough for the bench for the Gunners’ Champions League quarter-final defeat to Paris Saint Germain. “I did a lot of work with the Arsenal staff in recovery and I was so impressed at how professional it was and how they worked so hard to get me some minutes in that Champions League game.
“It wasn’t quite the pre-season I was expecting but I still got a lot of work into my legs and got back with the team pretty quickly. From what I saw the girls worked really hard and there was lots of ball work, which is how Joe likes his pre-seasons to be. It’s not just straight up line running, everything is with the ball. I missed a bit of it but I still really, really enjoyed it.”
The recent Champions League defeat to PSG continued a theme of sorts with Arsenal struggling against elite teams that play a transitional style. Arsenal have lost their last five encounters with Chelsea, who play in this manner. PSG are also renowned for a similar philosophy and they were able to overpower Montemurro’s side in San Sebastián.
— Our Game Magazine (@OurGameMagazine) August 9, 2016
Catley says she is used to facing powerful teams in the NWSL, where transitional football is the prevailing philosophy. “I haven’t spoken with Joe directly about that but having played in the NWSL you have some of the best footballing athletes. Every winger you come up against is rapid and strong- similar to PSG I would say from watching most of that game.
“That is something I am used to from playing in the US for the last six or seven years so I think that is something I can add to the Arsenal team. As a full-back it’s my job to come up against players like that.” She finishes by adding credence to her earlier proclamation that “I know the way that Joe likes to play football and that philosophy works with the way that I like to play football.”
“I like to be on the other side of that too,” she smiles. “I want to make the winger work back and mark me as well.” Next season, many a WSL winger will see the back of Steph Catley’s number 12 shirt galloping off into the sunset ahead of them.