ALESSIA RUSSO has been at the centre of some boundary breaking football moments.
From scoring during the Lionesses’ Euros triumph to netting a winner that saw Manchester United become the first WSL side to beat Arsenal at the Emirates in November.
That stoppage-time header may have give the Gunners food for thought with the club reportedly making a world-record £500,000 bid for the 23-year-old, which was rejected by United.
In March 2021 — five months after returning to fitness following a hamstring injury — Russo vowed to let her football for the league leaders “do the talking”.
She has done just that, contributing to the Red Devils’ title charge with five goals in nine WSL games so far this term as well as nine in 22 top tier appearances last season.
United are currently top of the table on goal difference from Chelsea ahead of today’s clash with Everton at 12midday.
And Russo could potentially be a key figure in England’s World Cup campaign in the summer.
With her contract with United set to expire this year aside from the Red Devils other top clubs in Europe and the USA are thought to be chasing her signature.
One individual who is backing Russo to achieve more on the pitch is grassroots football Colin Whitfield
The coach spotted the forward’s talent at Bearsted FC, the Kent-based club where she started playing at age six or seven.
Of the Maidstone-born forward’s efforts for the club playing for their Under-10s, Whitfield said: “From the outset she was a phenomenal player.
“She was quick, she had quick feet, she would just sort of glide past players as if they weren’t there.
“Her shooting was just incredible. I remember when we played Crystal Palace in a match and she scored from the halfway line.
“It was mini soccer, so it was like a 30-yard shot, but she could score from anywhere.
“The season that she first played for us in our Under-10s, she scored 76 goals.
“These days she scores quite a few with her head — none of those 76 were headers!
“She really was determined, and obviously gave up pretty much all of her time to the sport.”
Whitfield, who played a leading role in establishing girls’ football teams at Bearsted, has watched Russo’s rise with pride.
He is also among those keen to see finances flourish in the women’s game — particularly in the transfer market.
Whitfield added: “It’s great to see the finances in the women’s game have started to creep up, and I say creep because they’re nowhere near the level of the men’s game.
“Personally, I’d rather watch the women play
“I also think where Alessia’s concerned with the price tag, if it was ten years from now, I’m sure it would be a lot higher and I hope that’s the way that things will go.
“But she’s an extraordinary talent.
“There are some talented footballers out there, but it’s unusual to get one that is so good with their feet, so good with their head, just an outstanding all-rounder.”
According to Whitfield Bearsted FC had multiple girls teams during the time Russo was playing in their juniors
But as these players grew older, with some making the move to youth sides and women’s football development squads, the number of girls sides at Bearsted started to decline.
But Whitfield says the club, based in Maidstone, has seen a surge in interest in girls wanting to play football following the Lionesses’ Euros win last July.
Alessia has inspired lots of people, not just at Bearsted. There’s a real sense of excitement.
He also believes Russo’s success has benefitted Bearsted FC’s efforts to have a floodlit 3G pitch and training built for their players.
Whitfield says at present the club are paying £25,000 a year in fees to hire playing and training facilities for their teams.
The club hopes to raise 20 per cent of the funds required to have a training area installed for their sides.
Whitfield added: “With the girls, we had quite a few at the time Alessia was playing, but it petered out for a while.
“When some of the players on my girls’ teams turned 18 and got into women’s football, there were no players coming up behind them.
“We had a seven-year gap in the club with no girls teams
“It’s great the current girls have started up and reinvented the girls’ side of the game in the club.
“The girls in particular all want to be the next Alessia Russo.
“She has inspired lots of people, not just at Bearsted. There’s a real sense of excitement.
“Off the back of her success, I can’t see it ever disappearing.
“There’s so much interest from the girls. And that side of the game is really growing at the club
“Before the Women’s Euros we put an application in for a floodlit 3G training area and that’s never really come into fruition
“But post-Euros the local councils and the Kent FA are really sort of pushing for that work to go ahead.
“At the moment the club are paying £25,000 a year in fees for for hiring facilities for the teams to use.
“To be able have one of our own that we can use for our teams and also let the wider community use would be phenomenal.”