Tottenham Hotspur Women announced their second new acquisition of the offseason on Friday, signing free agent Rachel Williams to a one-year contract. Like Spurs’ other signing, Karys Harrop, Williams’ most recent club was Birmingham City, and she is also an experienced player with England caps in her career. She left Birmingham “to explore new opportunities,” which like her teammate Harrop means “to sign for Tottenham Hotspur.”
But that’s where the similarities end. While Harrop is expected to immediately compete for a place as a starter in Spurs’ back line, the 32-year old Williams comes to Spurs at the tail end of her career and after two miserable years. She’ll likely be a rotation option or a late game substitute, but with a lot of top flight experience.
In short, she may be Spurs Women’s Fernando Llorente.
Over the course of her career at Birmingham, Williams has scored 43 goals in 94 total appearances. She helped Birmingham City lift the FA Cup in 2012 and hit 14 goals in 14 matches, leading City to a second place league finish in 2010 and earning the 2011 Players’ Player of the Year award. She also has 13 caps for England, none since 2013.
But that was a long time ago, and Williams is coming off of two wretched seasons. She missed the entire 2018-19 campaign after tearing her ACL, and returned this season but in a limited capacity, playing in 10 of City’s 13 matches, but failing to score once. There are plenty of reasons why a player may underachieve after coming back from a serious knee injury, but while Birmingham City were pretty poor — finishing just above Liverpool and narrowly missing relegation — Williams’ stats were also not good, just .16 xG+xA/90 this season according to FBRef.
They’re not the most encouraging stats, to be frank, but are reasons to think that Williams could be useful to Tottenham in a different role. Spurs already have two solid forwards at their disposal in Rianna Dean and Lucy Quinn, and 19-year old England U19 international Jessica Naz also returns after missing this past season with a knee injury of her own. Williams brings a wealth of experience to the team, and it’s hard to separate how much of last season’s lack of production was her, and how much was just that Birmingham City were playing dreadful football. It may be a little from column A and a little from column B, but a change of scenery might just be what Williams needs to get going again.
It’s a bit of a gamble, but not too much of one. She was signed as a free agent, and co-head coaches Juan Amoros and Karen Hills obviously saw enough in her to think she can do a job for Tottenham next season. The short-term nature of the contract also makes it so that if it’s not a good fit both parties can move on at the end of next season.
Having an experienced striker on the bench who has maybe lost a step but can still be relied upon to put in a shift is a luxury, one with a potential high upside. That’s the role Llorente played for Tottenham’s men’s team, and while it didn’t always work out Llorente did enough that Spurs genuinely missed him at times this season after releasing him last summer. If Williams can fill that role for Spurs Women, or even get some of her old pre-ACL mojo back, then her signing may be a particularly astute one.