Ebony Salmon is exactly the kind of striker Manchester United need right now, with a comparative lack of goals still the biggest difference between them and WSL big three Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal since promotion to the top flight in 2019.
The disappointing thing is that Salmon has already been and gone at United, never actually playing a first-team game for the club, and is now making her name elsewhere instead.
The 20-year-old England international has a very bright future ahead of her and needed little more than a minute to find the net in a sensational debut for NWSL club Racing Louisville last weekend.
Salmon came off the bench for her new team with the clock about to hit 70 minutes, and it only took 40 seconds after play restarted to get what proved to be the stunning winner – just five touches of the ball to control it on the edge of the penalty area, beat three Houston defenders and finish.
Salmon made her senior England debut in a friendly against Northern Ireland earlier this year and plenty of fans voiced their disappointed on social media when she didn’t make the cut for the Great Britain squad or reserve list for this summer’s Olympics in Japan.
Were it a normal 23-player squad and not an extremely limited 18-player selection there would have been an argument for her to be included as something of a wildcard option. However, strong performances for Louisville this year and into 2022 could easily make her a shoo-in for the England squad at the UEFA Women’s Euros on home soil next summer instead.
In a poor Bristol City team that was ultimately relegated from the WSL last season, Salmon still scored six league goals – 10 in all competitions as the Robins also reached the Continental Cup final. At just 20, she remains a raw and unpolished talent, but immense potential is there.
United got much closer to the WSL top three in 2020/21 than they had done in 2019/20, ultimately finishing just a point behind Arsenal with a similar record and narrowly missing out on a place in the coming season’s revamped Champions League competition.
But United rarely dominated games in the same way that Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea often did and were outscored by 19, 21 and 25 goals respectively. Failure to get on the scoresheet in games against Reading in February and Brighton in April effectively cost them a top three place.
Finding a way to increase goal threat, especially now that significant forward upheaval is coming with the departures of Jess Sigsworth, Jane Ross, Tobin Heath, Christen Press and potentially also Lauren James, is key to achieving their aims in 2021/22.
Salmon is sadly already spoken for, having literally only joined Louisville last month.
As it happens, United already had her and let her go once before. She was just 17 when she was recruited from Aston Villa to be part of the newly formed club’s inaugural squad in 2018, but didn’t break into the first-team and was loaned to Sheffield United a few months later.
That resulted in a permanent switch to Bristol City in the summer of 2019 where her career at the highest level began to take off. It was a case of right player at the wrong time for United, with Salmon just too young to get a chance when she was in Manchester. Now, she would be perfect.
It won’t be Salmon for United this summer, but new forwards are absolutely vital.