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Hiya 😎

Sun's out, huns out... and boy, have I got a hun for you today. Today, in addition to Alisha Lehmann, I have been thinking about:
  • what it would be like for a total stranger to consider you 'my beautiful dawn of every day'
  • whether I can reasonably afford attending any of next summer's Euros when I paid £7 for a coffee waiting for a transfer in Zürich airport last year
  • replacing the air freshener in my car
  • where Lina Hurting got to
I hope you enjoy reading it and tell all of your friends 🫢🏼

Flora xx
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Princess of Soccer

With Chelsea fans still reeling from the trauma of Mama Hayes’ departure, Sam Kerr could have caused some real damage last week when a video of her seeming to say a tearful goodbye to the Blues was published on their social media channels twenty minutes before she confirmed that, actually, she’s signed a two-year contract extension.

Psych!

Very few were fooled — though her own sister-in-law, Sam Mewis, claims she momentarily questioned how she could have missed out on such big family news. What a dufus.

Execution aside, Kerr’s prank marks a new high-water mark for interest in women’s football. No longer the preserve of a scattered community of WoSo anoraks, this summer’s transfers are making waves in a now huge group of people interested in the comings and goings of the women's football world.

After dining out on Emma Hayes’ left-field press conference references and jaw-dropping post-match remarks, the. Chelsea media team have a big gap to fill. But if anyone could come close to matching Hayes’ headline-grabbing persona, it’s Sam Kerr. One of the world’s best players, with decent off-pitch patter, Kerr is close to the perfect modern football player. If you can score goals, great, if you can serve up HQ content for the club’s TikTok account — even better.
Juventus know this. So when Douglas Luiz, a transfer target of the men’s side, asked if he could bring his footballer girlfriend, Alisha Lehmann, to play for Juventus alongside him, one glance at her Instagram profile was enough to convince the club to say ‘sign here’.

Lehmann has an astonishing 16.6 million followers. This is twice the total population of her home country, Switzerland, and more than three thousand times the average number of people who turned up to watch her play for Aston Villa in the Women’s Super League last season.

Leah Williamson, meanwhile, boasts a mere 1.1m, while even WoSo titan Megan Rapinoe can only muster 2.1m.

In fact, using only ‘followers’ as a metric of social influence, Lehmann beats Roger Federer — by some distance — to the most powerful person in Switzerland, all while making a contribution to the WSL which can be described as, at best, ‘decent’.

But the Instagram comments left by her millions of followers don’t refer to her FBRef stats. Engagement with her posts — well, those which aren’t behind a paywall on Fantime, a platform ‘making it possible for women to express their sexuality however they want while providing them with a platform where they can monetize their self-expression’ — is unique for the sheer breadth of global simp behaviour it reveals, from objectification to poetry and back again:

‘Perfect woman’
‘Gorgeous queen’
‘So so beautiful, absolutely stunning. 😍πŸ”₯😍πŸ”₯😍πŸ”₯😍πŸ”₯’
‘Wow, my life, always sparkling, beautiful and wonderful, you tire my heart with your beauty and sweet soul❀️’
‘Wonderful girl’
‘Marry me’
‘No one is looking at the ball...’
I love you Princess of Soccer Alisha’
You are my sun my light my beautiful dawn of every day’
Lehmann started going out with Douglas Luiz, who plays for Aston Villa’s men’s side, not long after she arrived at the Birmingham club in 2021. He hasn’t found it easy going out with someone who attracts, and encourages, this much attention.

In 2022, Lehmann celebrated a goal by turning her back to the camera and pointing to the name on the back of her shirt, prompting Milton Neves, a 71-year-old ‘journalist’, to tweet footage with the caption: “Without returning to the video, what number was on her shirt?"

Luiz responded publicly and strongly, writing back: "You are old, with years in football and you post a video that doesn't respect women's football nor the player who, in this case, is my girlfriend. You never learned what respect is! Damn!"

Shortly after, the pair separated — and some newspapers pointed out that the break coincided with the release of the ‘Alisha Lehmann’ calendar which retailed on her official website at £29.99.

Now, they’re back together, stronger than ever, and finding new ways to manage their relationship, their football careers, and Alisha’s side-hustle as a girlboss thirst-trap.
Enter Juventus. It is a stereotype of Italian people that they are obsessed with appearances, and this is true of Juve, where image equals more than social standing, but big dollar, too. They were among the first to commit the grave crime of ‘brand-ifying’ their crest in 2017, changing it from a historic shield to… a letter, and they have a habit of buying the biggest names they can get their hands on. Think Cristiano Ronaldo. Think Lina Hurtig — yeah, the one who sank SS USA at the World Cup, then promptly disappeared for the 2023/24 season.

To Juve, Lehmann is a commercial dream. They’ve just partnered their women’s side with TikTok, so what better way to strengthen their relationship than by drafting in a player who will significantly boost their sponsor’s interests?

Hang on — engagement, interest, conversation, a platform... this is everything women's football ever wished for, isn't it?

Unfortunately, my spidey senses are telling me that those people in the Gorgeous Queen’s dazzling thrall aren’t going to be filling stadia at next summer’s Euros in Lehmann’s home country. The Juve board knows exactly what they’re doing, and what they’re doing is using a desirable woman to make a few men lots more money.

It all feels very 2005, when the president of UEFA said that “companies could make use of a sweaty, lovely looking girl playing on the ground, with the rainy weather”.
Yes! They are doing it with Alisha’s consent! Toward their effort to resolve their profit and sustainability concerns, Aston Villa will get a sumptuous £50k for Lehmann and a seven-figure sum for Luiz — but Lehmann will benefit from the lucrative sale of the rights to her image. Get it girl.

But — if you can — put the commodities being sold and the businessmen sorting the deal out of your mind for just a sec. Football has transformed dramatically over the last three decades, but it’s still a game, first, then a circus, second, right?

Right?

Let’s return to FBRef, briefly — itself another aberration of the modern game, but really the lesser of two evils, here. Two goals in 15 games for Aston Villa last season. Fine. I’m sure her teammates, who are each pursuing a career of their own, will be excited to revel in the competitive spoils of this Very Serious Transfer.

Historically, Italy is one of the globe's foremost footballing nations, yet their performance at last summer’s World Cup — failing to qualify from the group stage — shows a complete failure by the Italian Football Federation to support the women’s game, relative to the efforts made by their European rivals.

This latest farce makes the state of women’s football in Spain look aspirational. Jenni Hermoso didn’t grin and bear the toady lips of Luis Rubiales so that Juventus Femminile could have their transfer strategy orientated around a woman who moonlights as a brand ambassador for a scrotum-shaving device.
Obviously, this is not the only example of football club’s disproportionately taking from and giving to their women’s sides or, indeed, of the wrong motives inspiring boardroom decisions — but it is certainly among the most undermining, the least dignified.

In the scheme of the much more expensive purchase of Douglas Luiz, loose change dropped on the massive boost in engagement which Lehmann generates feels, as one internet commentator put it, “like throwing in an air freshener with your new car”.

Fortunately, some of the more right-thinking Juventus fans agree, and are playing up to another Italian stereotype with their impassioned response:
A tweet in Italian, with a translation reading: 'If Juve is seriously thinking about such an operation (I have nothing against Alisha), the marketing >>> technical aspect disappoints me immensely. I hope it's all a nightmare and that I wake up soon and make it disappear.'

More at The Square Ball

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by Flora Snelson

Who is at home? In women's football, writes Flora Snelson, home advantage often comes second to just having anywhere to play at all.
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