Manchester United Women have been moving forward year on year, both on the pitch and off, since their inception four years ago.
Today, The Athletic analyses their progress in relation to their domestic rivals as they search for Champions League Football.
This time last year, United was a club in turmoil. The manager, Casey Stoney left along with several top players and questions were raised over the facilities and conditions the women’s side had to train in.
Rumours swirled of players having to get dressed in portable cabins in the car park at Carrington and a formal complaint being made against the club.
However, under new manager Marc Skinner, United worked to improve the conditions for the players. He steered them to fourth in the league for the third consecutive year.
The club harbours ambitions of a top three finish though and their actions in summer make their intentions clear.
United signed a mix of experienced players and young talent, some of which has already been showcased in the opening two games of the season.
Maya Le Tissier had an incredible debut against Reading as the 20-year old netted twice whilst Lucia Garcia got her first goal for the club at West Ham.
Also joining the club was Grace Clinton, Adrianna Leon – who impressed in pre-season, Rachel Williams, Aissatou Tounkara and Euros winner, Nikita Parris.
On top of the new signings they have also managed to persuade captain Katie Zelem to renew her contract until 2024 along with Lionesses star Ella Toone, who proved just how indispensable she is with her display off the bench in the Euros this summer.
“The recruitment, some say, is a sign of the club’s intent and desire to qualify for the Champions League. Not qualifying for Europe’s elite club competition would be deemed a failure,” says reporter Dan Sheldon.
Overshadowing the club’s successful summer was the loss of Jackie Groenen, who departed after the transfer window had closed to sign for PSG, making clear in her statement that it was a decision to further her own career as she was excited to play Champions League Football again.
Furthermore, Alessia Russo has turned down a new contract with the Reds and can leave as a free agent next summer, but she again is a crucial member of United’s set-up and will be relied upon in the charge for the Champions League.
Dan Sheldon pointed out that it may be that United find it difficult to attract and retain these players due to the drastic difference in their wage expenditure compared to other clubs around them.
According to The Athletic, in the year ending June 2021, United’s salary expenditure was £1.5 million compared to City’s £2.8 million.
One of United’s biggest problems since it’s inception in 2018 is their lack of a women’s sporting director. John Murtough, the football director for the whole club, oversees things whilst director of football finance, Steven Deaville heads up the women’s department.
Dan Sheldon goes on to say, “One intermediary, who asked to remain anonymous to protect their relationship with United, claimed the lack of a sporting director is unacceptable for a team saying they have ambitions to play Champions League football. Until this is rectified, United will continue to lag behind their rivals and the current scepticism about how seriously the Glazer family is taking women’s football is going to remain.”
However, that is soon to change. Polly Bancroft is set to join the club as head of women’s football once she has finished serving her notice at Brighton.
Her responsibilities will include recruitment, contract renewals, operations and logistics and her first task may be to persuade Russo to stay.
As the club pushes on behind the scenes and the players put in performances on the pitch, with the help of the Lionesses success the fans continue to go with the Reds.
Although attendances and ticket sales are on the rise across all WSL clubs at the start of this season due to the Lionesses’ victory in summer, United always had a higher average than anyone else in the league and the attendance record set at Leigh in the opening weekend suggests things are only going to get better for the club in this area. Season tickets sales have increased by 55% from last year’s sales.
This season they have also improved transport links between Old Trafford and Leigh, which sits 15 miles from club’s home. This season a shuttle bus ferries fans to the ground, costing £6 for adults and £4 for children, in a bid to boost attendances at the women’s games.
There is no doubt United are making strides off the pitch to try to catch up with their rivals City, Chelsea and Arsenal who have had much longer to build and improve their women’s team set-up.
Will their advances behind the scenes continue to translate to results on the pitch? Only time will tell.
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