Emma Watson has been the subject of much hype this summer, with teenage Scotland internatonal giving fans a reason to get excired following her arrival at Manchester United. But before making her WSL debut, the 17-year-old has suffered an ACL injury.
During international duty this week, Watson suffered the dreaded injury, ruling her out for an extended period of time. Manchester United confirmed the news just four days before they are due to kick off their 2023/24 WSL campaign against Aston Villa.
Yet Watson’s journey predates her signing for the Red Devils from Rangers – first reported by 90min in early April – and stretches back to her country’s failure to qualify for the 2023 World Cup.
When Scotland missed out on a ticket to Australia and New Zealand, falling narrowly short against the Republic of Ireland in a qualifying playoff, discourse surrounded the lack of goalscorers, making clear there was an oppprtunity for young, hungry talents to step into the somewhat ageing side.
Previously debuting for Rangers at 15, Watson was the perfect fit, having showed incredible potential. Head coach Pedro Martinez Losa chose to call her up for the national team in April 2023, and at 17, whilst studying for her higher exams, she made her senior debut.
“I think I just take it all in my stride and I take every opportunity that I get,” Watson said. “It was a bit surreal getting my debut and then the next few weeks having to do my exams but that was just what had to happen, it keeps me humble and grounded.”
She had made 12 appearances for Rangers in her first season, in which they claimed their first SWPL title. But stepping on to the pitch for the first time for Scotland against Australia, her teammates were full of praise – the likes of Caroline Weir and Erin Cuthbert raved about their teenage colleague.
On just her second appearance in dark blue, Watson then scored a brace in a 4-0 win against Costa Rica, firmly demonstrating her ability on the international stage.
The budding young talent was named PFA Scotland’s Women’s Young Player of the Year last season, after taking centre stage during the SWPL title race, where Rangers lost out on the final day.
Manchester United couldn’t fail to take notice of the starlet.
Writing a heartfelt message on social media, announcing her departure from Rangers and thanking the club for all they had done for her, Waston said: “Many people have asked me over the past few months, ‘What’s the hardest challenge you’ve ever faced in football?
“I didn’t really have an answer until now, deciding to leave this unbelievable football club is without doubt the hardest challenge I have ever faced.”
Choosing to thank Ross Stormonth and Malky Thomson, she praised the club she had called home since the age of 12, “Once a Ger, always a Ger,” she signed off the message, adding “Emma #28”.
Speaking on her decision to join her new club, she said, “Manchester United is a top team and they did so well in the WSL last year…and they’re going to keep pushing which is exciting. They’re relatively new, I think they’ve only been around for five years, so it’s really nice to be on that journey with them and see where they can go.
“The whole club is all about family and that is something that really enticed me in,” she added.
“Coming from Rangers up in Scotland, they’re one of the best teams in Scotland and then coming to a club like Manchester United, it’s a huge step and obviously I’m still young and still wanting to learn. I’ve got so much to learn and develop still, this season I just want to stamp my mark on the WSL and prove that I’m good enough to be here.”
United boss Marc Skinner saw the promise and goalscoring ability in the youngster and opted to keep her in the first-team squad, despite speculation of a potential loan.
Watson, despite her age, joins United with Champions League experience already as the club enter their inaugural campaign on the continent. She netted her first Champions League goal against Benfica in the second leg of their qualifying tie last season.
Her young age also means she is one of the first generation of female players that have grown up with women’s football under the spotlight. She was therefore able to spend her childhood specificlaly watching women playing. The visibility encouraged her to pursue football as a career as, unlike her older teammates, she was physically able to see success in the women’s game.
She said: “Ever since I was young my aspirations were to be a professional footballer and to be living that dream every single day is amazing. I think it is great that at our age we can be professional footballers. I think it just shows the trajectory of women’s football and it’s on the up.”
Discussing settling into Manchester United life, she revealed her friendship with fellow signing Evie Rabjohn, 18, who, due to the closeness in age and being in a similar situation, has formed a close bond with the young Scot – the pair have revealed they’re “besties” and do everything together.
Watson explained it is a comfort having someone her age at the club who is going through the same journey, making the adjustment an easier feat. Her friendship with Rabjohn will certainly help as she faces the long road to recovery, expected to be out for the majority, if not all of the upcoming season.
The process will be gruelling and a lot will focus on staying mentally strong. Watson’s maturity for her age is something that Skinner praised, but it will now be up to the boss and the club to support her as she begins her rehb…and her WSL debut now sadly has to wait until she is fully fit once again.