Chelsea are closing in on the signing of Manchester United forward Lauren James, after the clubs agreed an initial transfer fee in the region of £50,000 plus several potential add-ons.
James has passed a medical with the reigning Women’s Super League champions and, although personal terms are still being discussed, an agreement on a long-term contract is expected soon.
The 19-year-old brother of England and Chelsea right-back Reece James is one of the women’s game’s brightest young talents and her move will see her become one of the most expensive teenagers in women’s football history.
She was one of Manchester United’s initial signings when they reformed a senior women’s side for the first time in 13 years in the summer of 2018, and has since impressed over a three-year spell at Leigh Sports Village, helping the club win the second-tier title in 2019.
James made history for United when she scored the women’s team’s first-ever goal at Old Trafford, in March’s victory over West Ham United, and she has been a fans’ favourite with the United faithful but has been strongly linked with a move away from the club ever since former manager Casey Stoney resigned in May.
James’ departure will be another blow to United, who have also seen United States stars Tobin Heath and Christen Press leave the club this summer, as well as more first-team players including defender Amy Turner, who joined Florida-based outfit Orlando Pride in June.
United remain without a manager, and while they are said to be very close to an appointment, several players have reportedly raised concerns about a lack of off-field progress at the club, who finished fourth in the WSL in both of the past two seasons. United had been top at Christmas under Stoney, before an injury crisis helped thwart their bid for European qualification.
Analysis: Lauren James’ exit is another major blow for Manchester United fans
James’ move will be one of the most significant of the WSL’s summer window and gives Chelsea’s already-lethal forward line another exciting option. The European finalists already have two of last season’s top three scorers in the WSL, in Australia’s Sam Kerr (21 goals) and England’s Fran Kirby (16) in their ranks, as well as last summer’s world-record signing, Denmark skipper Pernille Harder.
Initial reports suggested that the transfer fee agreed for James could rise to as high as £300,000, which would exceed the fee in excess of £250,000 which Chelsea are understood to have paid for Harder last year, but multiple sources have told Telegraph Sport the fee involved is notably lower. The initial deal in the region of £50,000 represents smart business from the Londoners, who are believed to have been interested in James for several months.
But the news will make painful reading for United fans, who are still disappointed at the exits of Stoney, Heath, Press and others. Coming in the other direction, they are understood to be close to signing Scotland striker Martha Thomas on a free transfer from West Ham United, but – while Thomas is a talented goalscorer – that move is unlikely to excite the Red Devils’ supporters, compared to last summer’s dramatic arrivals of two high-profile World Cup winners and young England star Alessia Russo.
As for England youth international James, who many felt deserved not only a senior England debut last term but also a Team GB Olympics spot, moving to Chelsea is likely to accelerate her development, working under the hugely-respected Emma Hayes and playing alongside many of the world’s finest players. Next she will hope to break into the Lionesses’ team in time for next summer’s European Championships. She received her first senior call-up in 2020.