The influx of world-class players into the Women’s Super League this summer stole the pre-season headlines but while the attention was fixed on the five imports from USA’s 2019 World Cup-winning team, the impact of the France striker Valérie Gauvin at Everton has started to shift the focus.
The 24-year-old, who joined Willie Kirk’s side from Montpellier and is preparing for the Sunday’s visit of Brighton, has scored four goals in the first seven games of the season. A key component to her quick start has been the support of her French teammate Maéva Clemaron.
The midfielder, who joined Everton a year ago from St Étienne, was a part of the women’s national team on home soil alongside Gauvin at the 2019 World Cup. “It’s nice to have Maéva playing behind me,” Gauvin says. “It’s helped me a lot in terms of understanding the language and in particular the instructions of the coach because it’s a different playing system to what I’ve been used to.
“The role of Maéva has been vital both before I came and after. Before I arrived I spoke to her on the phone and she gave me some advice about what it was like from an insider’s point of view.”
There was a lot of interest in the forward after a high-scoring season – 14 goals in 16 games – with Montpellier. With a little help from Clemaron and the exciting progress Everton have made, Kirk was able to secure her signature. “I wanted to come and play for a side that was competing towards the top of the table,” Gauvin says. “I knew Everton had shown quite a lot of interest in me for quite a while, they’d made that clear.”
Everton are unbeaten in the WSL and are below the leaders, Arsenal, on goal difference. They are in the FA Cup final on 1 November against Manchester City, the only team to beat them, in the League Cup group stage. That is quite the turnaround for a team who just under two years ago were rooted to the bottom of the WSL, but neither player is fazed by their start.
“We couldn’t imagine it but it was the objective,” Clemaron says, while Gauvin adds: “I think it helps we’re all pulling in the same direction and know what our objectives are. There’s a great understanding within the squad. Everyone gets on very well. I think the team spirit is really good. That’s when sides do well in big competitions. It is the fact they are strong mentally and together and I think we’ve managed to find that strength quite quickly.”
Everton are the only team since the restart to beat Emma Hayes’ Chelsea, with Gauvin scoring the winner in their FA Cup quarter-final. “I think we can draw lots of confidence from the match and the result against Chelsea,” Gauvin says. “We just have to work on the details. The higher the standard the more the small details can cost you or win you a game.”
Everton may not quite have the resources of Chelsea and Manchester City but the quality of the facilities at Finch Farm has impressed Clemaron. That is where the French league is lacking. “It’s a different style,” Clemaron says. “I really appreciated the French league but we need a better culture and better conditions for women players.
“The quality of the French players is really good but the league has to keep pushing towards professionalism. It’s not just about money, it’s about structures. In the WSL it is more understood that if there are really good conditions for players they will be more professional and just better. That means a better show and better football.
“I’m really happy to come to England and experience being professional. Valérie agrees. Even though she has only been here for a few months, she has already said to me: ‘Wow, what is this pitch, this quality, these changing rooms, the gym, the videos, the staff?’ And I know in England the WSL wants to keep pushing on.”