Fran Alonso leaving his job as Celtic Women manager to move to the United States can only be a positive reflection on the SWPL.
Last week, it was confirmed the Spaniard’s near four-year tenure as Celtic boss had come to an end as he left the Glasgow club to manage Houston Dash in the NWSL.
He did a fantastic job during his time at the helm, guiding the women’s team to Uefa Champions League qualification for the first time, back-to-back Scottish Cup wins and a League Cup triumph.
The move shows there are eyes are on the SWPL which can only be a positive, especially if those eyes are teams from a renowned league like the NWSL.
I think there have been sporadic signs of that already being the case in recent seasons.
There have been players who have made the move from the NWSL, while others have moved up or have moved on to play down south in the FA WSL.
When former England international Jo Potter moved to Rangers to become their head coach earlier this year, that was another moment where the SWPL entered the wider women’s football conversation.
Fran moving on from Scotland to the USA is another indication that the league is getting more attention and validity from others.
It adds value to the league and helps showcase what is an improving elite environment.
There will be more limelight on the SWPL even beyond the news as when the NWSL restarts in March people will be wondering who the new head coach of the Houston Dash is and where he has come from.
Fran will be a big loss to the SWPL and to Celtic, but he is deserving of the opportunity.
The step up from the SWPL to the NWSL will be massive. It is a tough league and probably the most competitive there is in women’s football.
Every team in the league begins the season with the expectation that they could reach the play-offs. It is definitely a league where any team can beat anyone, regardless of position in the table.
Fran has a good background in both the men and women’s game, but the transition to the NWSL could still prove to be quite challenging.
In Scotland, he will have been used to coming up against teams who do not operate in full-time environments – that won’t be the case in the United States. The level of competition he is used to will increase.
But that is something Fran can also look forward to as he will have a new kind of working environment to get the most out of his players.
At Celtic, there are still players who work alongside playing football and I am sure he has had to accommodate that over the course of his four years at the club.
This will be a key moment for Celtic because who they choose to replace Fran as manager will say a lot about how much the club are invested in their women’s team.
Fran had a lot of success with Celtic, but it would be fair to say he did so with more constraints and less resources than SWPL rivals Rangers and Glasgow City.
I was full of praise when Rangers appointed Jo Potter in the summer because it was an appointment which showed the ambitious direction the club wanted to take their women’s team.
My reflections on 2023
When I look back on this year I think it has in some ways been a quick year but in other ways a long one.
I had knee surgery in March and missed the best part of two months of competitive football, before making it back for Aston Villa’s last league game of the season.
But after that we had a four-month summer of no competitive football and after being out for so long – it felt like a very long break.
When you have to get your fourth knee op at this stage of your career there are some questions you do have to ask yourself.
There was never any doubt whether I would give the rehab everything I could, but I did have to really think about how getting back to playing at a top level could end up being really difficult.
That was a big moment in my year because things got quite real and I was delighted I was pushed to return for the final game of the season.
The second half of the year has been challenging and our results have been difficult, but, personally, I have probably played more minutes than I have in a long time.
So, after having the knee injury earlier in the year, it has been a highlight because what was an emotional and physical tough time has led to something positive.
The World Cup in Australia and New Zealand is a double-edged sword highlight for 2023 as, of course, we were all disappointed that Scotland did not qualify for the tournament.
I thought it would be difficult to enjoy the tournament because of that, but I got the chance to work it at with the media and experience it in a completely different way.
This World Cup was the biggest and best women’s football has ever been and when you have been in the game for as long as I have, it was very emotional to take it all in.
This summer was very powerful because we got to take in top level football, but also enjoy the growing audiences – with so many record crowds – and even things like the growing media presence.