How do you fill the hole left by the injured Sam Kerr? You can’t. No player can truly be replaced like-for-like and finding someone to match the world-class Kerr’s level and output is nigh-on impossible. It is not just the number of goals she scores that makes her so valuable but the timing. The Australia forward steps up in the biggest games, when backs are against the wall and a team need something special.
Her two critical, stunning goals in the final game of the 2021-22 Women’s Super League season, as Chelsea twice came from behind against Manchester United to earn a 4-2 win and secure the title, epitomise the characteristics that make her such a threat and a treat.
With Kerr out for at least nine months after she sustained an anterior cruciate ligament injury during a training camp in Morocco in January and the USA forward Catarina Macario still to return after an ACL injury in June 2022, Chelsea decided they needed to add to their forward line in a push to provide the aspects they are missing.
The signing of Mayra Ramírez from Levante for a British record £384,000 is the recruitment of a key piece in a puzzle of forwards that will give Chelsea’s attack a different look but – they hope – the same potency and depth.
The 24-year-old impressed at the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand as Colombia reached the quarter-finals for the first time. They lost there to England but footage of Ramírez wriggling free of Alex Greenwood, Rachel Daly and Keira Walsh showed what she can do.
It is unlikely Chelsea’s interest was piqued during the World Cup. Emma Hayes is known for her long-term recruitment strategies and it will not have gone unnoticed that Ramírez had 14 goals and 11 assists in 27 league games for Levante last season. This season she scored six in seven games and January may have been sooner than planned for her signing.
Coming in for a British record fee, which would become a world record should Chelsea pay the £42,600 in add-ons and surpass the reported £400,000 Barcelona spent on Walsh, Ramírez is not a short-term purchase to plug a hole. Kerr has signed a contract extension but is 30 and Fran Kirby, also 30, is yet to renew a contract that expires in the summer. Both players may stay at Chelsea for the foreseeable future but the need to start preparing for a time without them is also clear.
What, then, does Ramírez bring if you look beyond the goal statistics and why have Chelsea paid so much to secure her? “She’s so strong – if you put the ball up to her, it sticks,” said Hayes after handing Ramírez her debut against Brighton last Saturday, a day after the signing. “If defenders get tight to her, she’ll roll them. They think they’ve got her and then she’s got a bit of pace to go beyond them. She’s got qualities that I think are needed for the team right now.”
At 5ft 10in she is a different profile of player, a more physical presence than Chelsea’s attacking cohort of Mia Fishel, Kirby, Aggie Beever-Jones and Lauren James. Although Ramírez can play across the front line, she is also a more out-and-out No 9, whereas Chelsea’s other available forwards played wide of Kerr or, in the case of James and Kirby, in the No 10 role.
At times this season, before and after the loss of Kerr, the gap between Chelsea’s midfield and forward line has been a little worrying. The form of James has gone a long way to solving that problem but having a forward known for her strong hold-up play will be invaluable, providing Chelsea – who host Everton on Sunday – with options when moving the ball between the middle and final thirds.
The key to how much impact Ramírez can have this season will be how quickly Chelsea can integrate her on and off the pitch. For Hayes, who departs at the end of the season to become the head coach of the USA women’s national team, leaving a strong squad for her successor is imperative but she also wants to keep winning.
“I’m not here to waste time, I’m here to win, and I have to bed her into the squad as quickly as possible,” Hayes said of Ramírez. “We don’t have a pre-season for that so giving her 30 minutes [against Brighton] was important and for those of us that speak Spanish we have to help with that process.”
In that half an hour, Ramírez showed the adaptation may not take that long. She looked sharp, unselfish and a natural fit.