Women's FA Cup final: Tottenham bid to build one-club ethos with showpiece victory against Manchester United

Women's FA Cup final: Tottenham bid to build one-club ethos with showpiece victory against Manchester United

Tottenham’s transformation in style this season has not been confined to Ange Postecoglou’s side, with Spurs Women also revolutionised into a front-foot, pressing team by new head coach Robert Vilahamn and now preparing for a first FA Cup Final.

The consistency in approach across Spurs’ sides is deliberate and part of an ambitious strategy to grow the club’s fanbase, particularly for the women’s team.

“We want to be one club, we want to have one fanbase,” said Vilahamn ahead of facing Manchester United at Wembley. “We want to make sure that our fans see us as one club with two teams, so that when they watch our teams play they can see the same identity and feel like they’re part of those two teams, not only one team.

“In the future, I hope we don’t pick and choose from the men’s or women’s side, [and] we have Tottenham fans who want to watch Tottenham play football.”

Last summer, when Spurs chairman Daniel Levy was deciding what type of manager was needed to take the men’s club forward, a similar conversation was taking place between the powerbrokers of the women’s team, who were also searching for a new boss.

Andy Rogers, managing director of Spurs Women, sat down with the club’s academy director Simon Davies to work out how they could align the teams.

“We wanted to understand, ‘How do we want to play?’, with a one-club mentality at the top of everything,” said Rogers. “So, ‘What’s the vision for the men’s team?’ and we should try to align the women’s team similarly.”

Vilahamn was a risky choice to lead the new project, having spent just three seasons as a top-level coach in his native Sweden and a year in the women’s game. But the 41-year-old has quickly turned Spurs into a slick, modern team, with Martha Thomas’s outstanding winner in the 1-0 win over Arsenal in December the best example of their brave football.

The north London derby win was a landmark result for Vilahamn’s side, but it has not always been plain sailing, demonstrated by a 7-0 defeat at Manchester City in November which underlined the existing gap to the WSL’s traditional ‘big three’.

Talking tactics

Where the Women's FA Cup final will be won and lost

Grace Clinton absence a blow

Grace Clinton, 21, has been one of Spurs' standout performers this season but the No.10 is on loan from Manchester United and ineligible to face her parent club at Wembley. Celin Bizet Ildhusøy may get the nod instead, or Spurs could call on the experienced Martha Thomas, who played in last year's final for United and scored the winner against Leicester in the semi.

United style could be telling

United played with a conservative and transitional approach to see off Chelsea in their semi-final, finishing a 2-1 win with just 30 percent possession. The question is whether Marc Skinner's side will try the same set up against Spurs or try to take the game to their opponents, who are not the same class as Chelsea after all.

Can England fire on big stage?

Spurs have eased their reliance on Bethany England this season after the captain's campaign was severely impacted by hip surgery last summer. But the Lioness is slowly working her way back to her best and has four goals in as many games. Robert Vilahamn, the Spurs head coach, believes England is still not at her best, and the stage is set for a big performance on Sunday.

“One of our players spoke to me after the game, when everyone was a bit shell-shocked, and this was a real moment,” said Rogers. “She said, ‘You know what, this doesn’t change what we do’. Culturally, that’s a huge moment. It shows me we’ve changed and have got trust within the building for what we’re trying to do.”

Davies, whose was previously Tottenham’s head of coaching methodology before taking charge of the academy, worked at City for several years and believes Spurs are gradually closing the gap to their more established rivals.

“The way Andy has all his team working now is to the highest standard,” he said. “There’s real clarity about what it takes to be a Tottenham player, a Tottenham person, a Tottenham member of staff in general. That is starting through Robert and through Ange and through myself for the academy. There’s real clarity and alignment about what it takes to be a footballer here and a person here.”

For Vilahamn, Spurs’ easy-on-the-eye style makes this weekend’s showpiece an even bigger opportunity for the team, who can showcase their style of play to a sold-out Wembley and millions more watching at home.

Tottenham head coach Robert Vilahamn has transformed the team this season (Zac Goodwin/PA Wire)
Tottenham head coach Robert Vilahamn has transformed the team this season (Zac Goodwin/PA Wire)

“We have 12,000 fans that bought tickets for the game and we’ll obviously have a lot more people in the stadium,” he said. “We’re going to show them how good the football we play [is] and how good the product is. I think we can win a lot more fans. That’s the main thing. This is the moment we need to use, this is the moment we should use, because the girls deserve it.”

Sunday’s final is another step on a remarkable rise for Spurs Women, who only turned professional in 2019 and 10 years ago finished eighth in the third-tier south of the women’s pyramid.

“Without doubt, the emotion of getting to an FA Cup Final is huge,” said Rogers. “It’s a massive moment for the club.

“This will give us a huge opportunity on and off the pitch. These moments really just accelerate the process of where we’re trying to get to.

“We want to be the best. We want to compete at the highest level, we want to be in the Champions League.

“This is a watershed moment for us and we want it to become a regular thing.”