What can we expect from the Manchester United Women’s Team?
Before this Women’s Super League season began, the biggest news came not from the top flight, but from the second division. After 13 years in the wilderness of the women’s game, Manchester United returned. What can we expect from the team? Is its inception a signal United at last moves with the times or merely a reaction to the negative PR surrounding its previous absence?
England Women’s team legend Casey Stoney is the inaugural manager, suggesting the club means business. Stoney possesses the gravitas to attract talent even while inhabiting a lower division. The board allowed Stoney to handpick her own squad, alongside assistant Willie Kay, a coach well respected across the women’s game.
Stoney took full advantage. Her squad's already considered among the favourites to win WSL 2. She's signed England international Siobhan Chamberlain in goal, club captain Alex Greenwood and Lizzie Arnot, who potted the new squad's first goal, as well as a few talented players who were forced to leave United at 18 because no senior squad existed. They were keen for the chance to return and settle unfinished business.
The early signs are mixed. Defeat to Reading in a pre-season friendly followed a debut league cup victory over Liverpool. Fans shouldn't react in the same manner they have towards the men's side, however. Although United assembled another strong squad, it’s also entirely new. Time is needed for the team to gel. Expectations should be tempered.
If the team adapts quickly, we could see something special. The top players who dropped down from WSL 1 to put on a Red Devils shirt think so. There's also the prodigal daughters. Katie Zelem, Emily Ramsey and Ella Toone all returned to the club after forced exile when they turned 18. They'll be examples to the current youth squad. No longer will the most talented 18-year-olds be left to find a new club because there’s no senior side waiting.
For now, it's clear Manchester United are serious about their foray back into the women’s game. They've appointed a big name manager, persuaded England internationals to drop down a division, welcomed home stars from the youth squad, including one all the way from Turin. The message is they're in it for the long haul. The biggest club in the world no longer intends to watch its biggest rivals dominate the WSL unopposed.
Like many other sides in the league, the team won't play in a Premier League ground. Rather than Old Trafford, they'll call the more intimate Leigh Sports Village home. Separate season tickets are available. That said, the women enjoy full access to the state of the art training complex at Carrington.
So, what can we expect? Well, when a team earns promotion, their debut season's most often an exercise in consolidation. Rare is the club like RB Leipzig who challenges for the title right from the off. On the other hand, we're discussing Manchester United. The resources exist to do exactly that. Either way, the important thing to remember is it's just the beginning.