After weeks of quiet rumblings, it is now being widely reported that the announcement that former England captain Casey Stoney will be the manager of the new Manchester United women’s team is imminent.
When United revealed their intention to relaunch a women’s side and bid for entry into the new Women’s Championship (second tier) for the 2018-19 season, it was clear that the job would be highly sought after.
United will not be confirming the news until the Football Association reveals the league status of the teams that have applied in the second round for the Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship, expected on Sunday. The FA have confirmed that there are up to four places available in tier one and five in tier two. With 15 teams fighting it out for those nine places, there is likely to be disquiet if United are handed a spot at the expense of a longer-established team. Yet they are not the only side who are benefiting from the changes. Other teams will be moving up, with Brighton & Hove Albion having already been granted a move into the top flight.
In 2014, when the Women’s Super League structure was revamped and expanded, Manchester City were parachuted into tier one at the expense of Doncaster Rovers Belles. It is a move which still causes consternation, yet few would question the evident benefits of City’s investment in women’s football in recent years.
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With professional women’s football now on the cards, the introduction of a team from one of the biggest and most widely supported clubs in the world will have many positive implications, and with the women’s game very much still at the beginning of a journey, memories of the start will likely be short.
How United go about setting up their team will help, and bringing in Stoney is a very smart move for the club, Stoney herself, and women’s football in England.
While the 36-year-old’s managerial experience is limited to a brief spell as player-manager at Chelsea in 2009, she has slowly worked her way through her coaching badges, has led training sessions with development teams at Liverpool – where she ended her playing career – and has been vital to Phil Neville as an assistant coach in his first few months in charge of the Lionesses.
Stoney knows football and is brilliant at reading the game, but she also knows the women’s game inside out. During a lengthy playing career which included spells at Arsenal, Charlton, Lincoln, Chelsea and Liverpool, she has experienced it all, from winning trophies to clubs folding. Stoney is also a proven leader having captained many of the sides she played for, alongside raking up 130 caps for England, preceding Steph Houghton as captain of the Lionesses and leading Team GB at the 2012 Olympics.
United handing such a well-liked and respected member of the women’s football community, pinpointed by many as a future England manager, the chance to build a squad from scratch will earn them considerable credit. They are taking a chance on her potential and have picked her from a rumoured four-strong shortlist.
They also stand to benefit greatly from her profile, both from a marketing point of view – Stoney is a role model and was one of the first gay players in the women’s game to speak publicly about her sexuality – and on the pitch. The respect she garners professionally will mean she has no problem recruiting talent to her new project.
For Stoney, this is an opportunity that would be hard to rival. She has the chance to build from the bottom up, without the baggage accumulated by previous managers, at a club with resources and a top-class youth set-up already established. If United are granted the tier-two license they’ve bid for, Stoney has the profile to recruit players from tier one and abroad to balance a squad being built to not just earn top-flight status but be able to compete for trophies.
There are a host of former United academy prospects who have gone on to leading clubs such as England and Manchester City midfielder Izzy Christiansen, Everton defender Gabby George, 18-year-old City forward Ella Toone, Liverpool’s Ellie Fletcher and Emily Ramsey, Juventus’s Katie Zelem and Chelsea keeper Fran Kitching, and there may well be an attempt to lure some of them back to their roots.
The one down side to the potential move is the short-term loss to England. Though there can be little doubt this is a appointment that will have been supported by Neville. He will certainly miss Stoney’s experience but having her managing at what will likely become one of the biggest women’s teams in the country is something England will hopefully eventually benefit from.
• Arsenal’s late attempt to unseat Manchester City from next season’s Champions League failed as the Cityzens beat Everton 3-0. Arsenal thrashed Bristol City 6-1 but finish a point behind Manchester City in third. Chelsea looked like they had thrown away the chance to finish the season unbeaten when goals from Jess Clarke and Niamh Charles saw them 2-0 down at Liverpool. Eni Aluko pulled one back - the Blues’ 100th goal of the season- before Ji So-yun scored twice to hand Chelsea victory and an invincible season.
• Women in Football has launched a campaign aimed at changing the landscape for women working in the industry. The #WhatIf campaign encourages businesses and individuals to pledge a way in which they could contribute to an improvement for women and girls in the industry. The initiative was trending on Wednesday’s launch night as people tweeted their pledges, including:
Sky Sports – #WhatIf Sky Sports committed to including female talent as studio pundits on Gillette Soccer Specials from the 2018-19 season onwards
SPORF - #WhatIf @SPORF amplified the reach of women’s football by fully integrating coverage of the women’s game on online communities
Twitter - #WhatIf Women in Football had its own emojil on Twitter
Betfair - #WhatIf Betfair ring-fenced 50 per cent of their Cash4Clubs grassroots grants for women’s teams to help support their growth and sustainability
• England goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain has announced she is leaving Liverpool after two years and described the season as “frustrating.” In barbed comments, she said: “It’s important for me to know I’m in an environment that challenges me every day,” and “I also want to know I am part of a project that’s doing the most it can to develop the women’s game.”
• Lyon dropped their first points of the season as they were held to a 0-0 draw at Paris Saint-Germain in their final game before Thursday’s Champions League final. Dzsenifer Marozsan had a penalty saved by PSG goalkeeper Christine Endler in the 70th minute. Meanwhile, their opponents in the final, Wolfsburg, won the DFB Pokal (German Cup) 3-2 on penalties against Bayern Munich after a 0-0 draw. Caroline Graham Hansen scored the winning kick in front of 17,692 fans. However, Wolfsburg will no doubt be ruing having to go to extra time and penalties ahead of Thursday.