Manchester City have announced their first signing of the summer window in the form of 17-year-old Ruby Mace.
The teenager joins the FA Cup winners on a three-year deal, making the move from league rivals Arsenal. She joins a roster already brimming with rising young talent, including Jess Park and PFA Young Player of the Year Lauren Hemp.
While she may be listed as a midfielder on City's roster, Mace can also play in defence. With three years on her contract to grow with the Citizens and potentially partner the club captain, does the former Gunner have what it takes to be the next Steph Houghton? GiveMeSport Women takes a look at the youngster's potential...
Mace's senior career started in North London when she was handed her professional debut in 2020, just weeks after her 17th birthday.
She made a cameo appearance against Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup quarter-final, in a match Arsenal won 4-0. She then made another cup appearance, this time in the Continental Cup against Chelsea. Mace's last two games for the Gunners came in the WSL and Conti Cup respectively, against Spurs once again and London City Lionesses.
Despite having made just four senior appearances for Arsenal, Mace had featured in three different competitions. This set her up nicely for her loan move to Birmingham City in the new year.
Birmingham City chapter
In February 2021, the 17-year-old joined the Blues in a bid to help them survive relegation. Even as a young and relatively inexperienced player, Carla Ward deployed Mace straight into the starting lineup. She started all 11 games played for Birmingham in the WSL, getting stuck into the fight for survival at the bottom of the table.
Not only was Mace relied on to help produce the results needed to stay in the top flight, but she was the difference between a loss and a draw for the Blues on two occasions. The defender played these two matches in midfield and the risk from Ward immediately paid off. Mace scored crucial goals back-to-back against Reading and Aston Villa – single-handedly salvaging points for her side twice.
This is where Mace will be experienced beyond her years already. Having the talent in her locker to come up with season-saving goals is something normally associated with world-class talent or veterans of the game.
Indeed, Houghton has been relied on to come up with important goals numerous times over the years for both club and country. Even for Team GB, the Man City skipper is the highest goalscorer in their Olympic history.
Learning from the best
Mace is already showing glaring signs of becoming a household name in women's football. It's one thing to say you have played consistently in the WSL at just 17, but to pop up with game-changing goals while playing out of position is something to really boast about.
Now, Mace will have the chance to grow her game by training alongside Houghton. Last season, Birmingham conceded the third most goals and finished just two points above the drop-zone. Going from operating in a leaky defence to one of the best in the league will be where the youngster's game changes.
City also boast international talents Lucy Bronze, Alex Greenwood, Demi Stokes, and Abby Dahlkemper, who will all impart their experience on the rising star.
A chance to partner Houghton
Man City recently bid farewell to WSL icon Gemma Bonner, who has joined NWSL side Racing Louisville. The arrival of Dahlkemper meant there was little room for Bonner to find the chance to play. Similarly, 20-year-old Esme Morgan has been struggling for regular game time but has enjoyed a past loan spell with Everton.
Although Dahlkemper is Gareth Taylor's first choice partner to Houghton, her terms only see her at the club for two-and-a-half years. Like Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle, the US international may opt to return to home soil once her contract expires, which could be the perfect chance for Mace to make her move.
It doesn't get much bigger for a young English player to play alongside her country's captain. Equally, Mace has started her own international chapter in a similar form. She has made four appearances for England U17s, scoring two goals and sporting the armband on her debut. That's some way to kickstart your journey for your home nation.
There's time for the teen to improve her game off the pitch, enjoy cameo appearances in cup competitions, and then eventually raise her hand when the time comes to look for Houghton's next centre-back partner. Mace could become the ideal protége to the Man City and England legend.