Manchester United are hoping to make use of a ‘global market’ this summer as they focus on adding depth ahead of the 2022/23 WSL season, keeping multiple options open rather than focus on recruiting players from only a handful of leagues.
United finished fourth in the WSL for the third year in a row when the season finished on Sunday, narrowly missing out on a Champions League place again.
Although progress was made in terms of the very fine margins that eventually proved costly in what had threatened to be a difficult transitional year with a new manager and little preparation time, it was abundantly clear at various moments throughout the season that the squad lacked depth and experience compared to the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City.
It was telling on the final day of the season that, with United leading 2-1 at half-time at Kingsmeadow, Chelsea were able to change the whole game with two substitutions.
Skinner has already confirmed that United’s ideal recruitment will focus on bringing in a new striker, ‘number 10’, winger, midfielder and centre-back, largely to give the squad more options when it comes to unlocking the kind of stubborn WSL defences they encountered this season.
Finding different ‘variants’ in different in-game situations is key to his thinking.
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The recruitment plan is a year-round process, with winter and summer transfer windows both providing good opportunities because of variations in domestic calendars around the world. Scandinavian and American club seasons finish in winter, meaning players are often available in January and United recruited both Diane Caldwell and Jade Moore in that manner.
Scandinavian and American-based players remain on the United radar now, despite it being mid-season for those clubs. But attention is also on players from in other European leagues.
Skinner remains confident that not having Champions League football to offer prospective targets won’t affect the vast majority of players. The preference is also that players are brought in before Euro 2022 disrupts the opportunity to do business. But the major hurdle to successful recruitment that presents itself at this moment in time is bureaucratic, rather than sporting.
Obtaining visas and work permits for overseas players is a potentially complicated process that requires a governing body endorsement (GBE) from the FA. Players can achieve an ‘auto pass’ dependent on international appearances and their country’s FIFA ranking, but it is otherwise a points-based system hinging on several additional factors such as minutes played in domestic and continental competitions, their former club’s final league position and league quality.
If a player fails to gain an auto pass or the necessary points, they can also go before an ‘exceptions panel’, but there are no guarantees and each hearing costs £5,000 plus VAT.
Discussing setbacks in pursuing overseas players, Skinner said, “I think it’s important that we look, as a club, at a global market. There are problems with GBE getting players in and hopefully that can be reviewed because we’re missing out on some of the world’s best talent in this country.”
Despite apparent bureaucratic issues cropping up, Skinner has generally spoken very optimistically about this summer’s planned recruitment over the last few months, both in terms of progressing individual deals and about wider support from the club in the process.
In his words, United is a club that will ‘allow us to go and make those acquisitions’ once they have identified the right targets to strengthen the squad. He has previously said that deals for several prospective new players are ‘very much down the line’ and the club is generally taking an ‘aggressive’ and proactive approach in the market.
Indeed, he is also planning for the long-term and has been given significant freedom this season to ‘design’ – his own term – what United’s women’s operation will look like over the coming years.
Skinner has said the club has ‘listened to everything’ that has been asked for so far and that conversations about budgets and what is needed to progress have been ‘really positive’.
Away from new signings, training infrastructure is being readied for pre-season, with two new pitches at the club’s main Carrington base in place and work ongoing on a on-site new facility to house the women’s team long-term.
A head of women’s football is also still to be appointed, with the club first advertising the position that will strengthen the management structure above Skinner in December and engaging in an ongoing recruitment process to narrow the selection over the last six months.