02 Sep Vilde Bøe Risa Hoping To Propel Manchester United Women Into Champions League
Manchester United may have pulled off the biggest transfer coup of the summer bringing Cristiano Ronaldo back to the club but their women’s team believe their acquisition of Norwegian play-maker Vilde Bøe Risa will prove just as decisive when the Barclays FA Women’s Super League kicks-off tomorrow.
Last summer, Manchester United were the talk of the women’s game after signing two of the United States’ World Cup winning squad, Christen Press and Tobin Heath on one-year contracts, and after leading the Women’s Super League at the end of the first half of the season, supporters were hopeful that more big-name transfers would follow with the team qualifying for this season’s UEFA Women’s Champions League.
However, the team’s fortunes tailed off as the season climaxed with the team dropping out of the top three European qualifying positions, Press and Heath returning back home to play their soccer in the United States and manager Casey Stoney also decamping after resigning to take up a coaching position with San Diego in the National Women’s Soccer League.
With eight players departing, supporters have been disappointed that more signings have not been made with head coach Marc Skinner revealing the club would not be active on “deadline day” as the women’s transfer window came to a close this afternoon. However, it is the signing made nine days before his appointment which fans are hoping will help them compensate for the loss of five attacking players over the summer.
After scoring against her new club’s city rivals, Manchester City, in her final match for Swedish side Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC last December, Bøe Risa made the decision not to re-sign for the club in order to pursue a career abroad. Stymied by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Bøe Risa was forced to train with, and eventually sign for, local side Sandviken in order to maintain her fitness. However when Manchester United came calling, Bøe Risa persuaded Sandviken to terminate her one-year contract in June having only played three games for the club.
Pivotal in the move, was the opportunity to join her Norwegian team-mate, Maria Thorisdottir who signed for Manchester United in January. Bøe Risa said, “I talked to her a lot, how it is here, how she has settled in. She said a lot of good things. It was a tough half-year for her, coming in the middle of the season. She had a tough time but she still said some good things about the club”.
The 25-year-old Bøe Risa eventually signed a two-year contract with Manchester United on July 20 claiming she was “happy to be here at such a big club that I have grown up supporting. Manchester United is huge in Norway so to be able to come here and play for the team is a dream come true”.
Speaking to the media last week, she revealed it was not watching the famous Norwegian internationals who played for the club, like current men’s manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær, who persuaded her to follow the team, but someone much closer to home. “My brother forced me to cheer for Manchester United”, she admitted. “That’s the main reason. My mum and my boyfriend is cheering for Liverpool and my dad cheered for Chelsea so I just had to cheer for Manchester United so my brother could be one-up”.
Despite the popularity of Manchester United in Norway, the young Bøe Risa was not one to follow soccer on television or idolize any of the players. “I didn’t watch much as a little girl. I was mostly playing outside myself. I knew about (Cristiano) Ronaldo and all the big players, Rooney of course, but I don’t have one specific person”.
As a teenager she split her time between playing soccer and handball, and could have pursued a career in either but eventually made the decision to follow in the footsteps of her late father Terje, who played 96 times for Norwegian side SK Bergen before serving on the club’s board of directors. “I had to take the decision when I started at college. I could choose either handball or football. The reason why I chose football was because I could have a better future in it. I had the same coach at my club as in school. I had a lot of friends that I could play with. It just felt right for me to do because of the circumstances around football. When I watch handball now, I miss it, but I know I made the right decision to play football”.
After sustaining an anterior cruciate injury in February 2017 which put her out of the game for twelve months and forced her to miss that year’s European Championship finals, Bøe Risa recovered to start all five of Norway’s matches at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. She describes herself as someone who likes to create from midfield. “I’m a person that likes to have the ball, a typical play-maker. I’m a bit higher up the pitch so someone who can take a shot, score a goal and hopefully deliver good passes and assists.”
The skill to find space in small areas developed by playing handball is perhaps what gives Bøe Risa the ability to pick out the passes which have caught the eye of her new coach Skinner. He told me, “I’ve seen her pass some balls which I can’t even see in training, and I try and pride myself on trying to see every opportunity, as much as I can, to exploit the opponent. “V” has almost this “third eye” where she can see things potentially others can’t.”
Having started all four pre-season games alongside her in midfield, club captain Katie Zelem has also been impressed. “I’ve really enjoyed playing with Vilde, as do the other midfielders if you were to ask them. She’s technically very good on the ball and she understands the game. That’s the sort of player anyone would want to play with. It’s been great bringing her in. It just gives us a few more more options really, especially with Jackie (Groenen) and (Ella) Toone who were obviously away at the Olympics for a long time. It allows Marc to have a bit more flexibility in rotating players and being able to use the size of our squad”.
Skinner believes Bøe Risa has been quick to adapt to the English style of play and what he wants from her, with and without the ball. “We’ll continue to get “V” up to the speed of play, in terms of mentally off-the-ball as well. She, for sure, has so much quality in finding the killer passes but also being simplistic in the build-up, making and selecting the right things to do. She’s a very, very talented player, but what I’ve been most impressed with is her attitude to accepting a different kind of variation of play.”
The most high-profile of five summer signings, much will be expected of Bøe Risa starting on Friday when Manchester United play Reading in the opening match of the season, and the first to be broadcast as part of a new lucrative television deal with Sky Sports. Her ambition is clear. “Of course I want to win titles and I want to help the team. Mainly my focus is to qualify for the Champions League because that’s the biggest tournament you can play in”.
Skinner expects the Norwegian could be one of the stars of the new season. “She has the skill-sets that can unlock any defense in this league and hopefully we get to see that throughout this season and we’re talking maybe a little bit more towards Christmas about the things that she’s done rather than what we think she can do”.
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