London City Lionesses start new era with Asllani signing

<span>Michele Kang (left) has signed the <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Sweden;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Sweden</a> captain, <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Kosovare Asllani;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Kosovare Asllani</a>, as a serious statement of intent.</span><span>Photograph: Wing Chong</span>

As US businesswoman Michele Kang began speaking in the lavishly decorated Empire room at Mayfair’s Landmark hotel and outlined her vision for the Women’s Championship side London City Lionesses to become the “best team in England”, the scene created an immediate juxtaposition to last season’s typical images of the team that finished eighth in the women’s second tier playing their home games at a sparsely populated Princes Park stadium in Dartford.

Before Kang – who also owns Washington Spirit and Lyon – was even halfway through her opening remarks, Princes Park had already been waved goodbye to. The relatively small, somewhat unknown, independent women’s team she bought in December are to move. Not quite to Mayfair, but to Bromley, where her team will ground-share with the men’s League Two club from the new season.

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That was interesting, sure, but perhaps in isolation, not worthy of hiring out a grand room in one of London’s most luxurious hotels. But then came a moment that had felt inconceivable to outsiders even a few days earlier: one of Sweden’s all-time greats walked into the conference room and embraced Kang with a warm hug.

The unveiling of the Sweden captain, Kosovare Asllani, as the club’s newest signing – from Milan, no less – was a statement of intent that will have raised eyebrows around the global women’s game. Players with 187 international caps and two Olympic silver medals are not routinely spotted outside big-name clubs. When Real Madrid launched their women’s team in 2019, Asllani was their choice of marquee signing. She looked more excited this time, to be at London City.

Kang gave Asllani a look of sheer gratitude and adoration and they sat side-by-side. Kang said many other players she approached had been reluctant to join because of the prospect of playing in the Championship. But not the former Women’s Super League champion Asllani, who said she had spent her whole career yearning for owners who believe in women’s sports.

“I’ve been waiting for someone like Michele to come along,” she said. “She’s someone who doesn’t just talk, but someone who is doing. Everything I’ve been fighting for, she is fighting for.

“I could have taken an easy choice to join another top club in the world. But after meeting Michele, I wanted to be part of this. This is raising the women’s game to the next level.”

To many, in a sport dominated in England by established clubs such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City, the idea of an team without an affiliated men’s team conquering the top tier may seem fanciful, at best. Some may resent the prospect of a team trying to buy success. But Kang’s ethos is to provide women’s players with the best-possible facilities and resources, with the aim of ultimately winning the WSL title. She is putting her money where her mouth is.

She announced the club have bought their 23-acre training site in Kent, where they are embarking on works to build a “world-class”, bespoke training facility. Then she introduced the team’s new manager, snapped up from Paris St-Germain, last season’s Champions League semi-finalists.

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Jocelyn Prêcheur sounded determined as he outlined a target to immediately win promotion to the WSL and said he had “no hesitation” in leaving PSG for a second-tier side after hearing Kang’s plans.

The trio spoke with composure and conviction about their ambitions. While not every question thrown Kang’s way was an easy one, she sought to reassure any potential doubters.

Probed on whether or not multi-club ownership could be a successful model in women’s sport, Kang responded by labelling it as a necessity, citing examples such as the game’s injuries and stating that, with data from lots of clubs, an organisation could learn more and build up expertise to provide enhanced training environments specific to women’s bodies. “If you have multiple teams, you can pool the resources and do it [research] once, at a central level.”

She also said no one of her three clubs would take priority. “We are not going to move players around so that one team is better than the others. The goal is to make every team the champion [in their countries].”

More news will evidently follow, with six unnamed player signings already secured.

It should not be overlooked that moving the team from Dartford and into Bromley may not necessarily be welcome news for the team’s fans. Kang calmly defended the move, saying “my understanding is it’s around 20 minutes or so” (locals may be thinking, “mmm, maybe not at rush hour”) but she did add: “We will work with the fans and continue to have them coming to our games.”

Kang recognised women’s teams are running at losses but hoped London City could at least break even within two to three years, citing an improved broadcast deal for the league as being crucial.

If her project does turn into a WSL-winning success, this event could go down as an “I was there” moment. Achieving that will not be easy. Whatever happens it certainly won’t be dull.