Man Utd's transfer plans after securing first ever Women's Champions League place
Manchester United manager Marc Skinner admitted that the squad will have to 'look different' next season after the club secured its place in at least the Women's Champions League second qualifying round next season with WSL victory over Manchester City on Sunday night.
United are guaranteed to finish a minimum of second in the final WSL table, which automatically means they will bypass the first Champions League qualifying round scheduled to start in early September - only just over two weeks after the World Cup finishes.
Arsenal will end up in that early round, while the second qualifying round isn't until October. United could even go straight into the group stage, but only if they pip Chelsea to the WSL title, which seems unlikely, and Barcelona beat Wolfsburg in this season’s final.
Qualifying is no easy feat, as Manchester City have previously found by losing to Real Madrid in successive seasons. United's expected qualifying path will also feature Real, as well as Paris Saint-Germain and potentially Wolfsburg if they don't lift the 2023 trophy.
But United, although brand new to this European stage, will take confidence from the fact that they beat PSG in a pre-season game last summer and have twice got the better of an Arsenal side this season who recently reached the Champions League semi-finals.
The boss is also hopeful that performances such as those against Arsenal and Manchester City will make United an increasingly attractive option to players this summer.
"[The squad] has to look different," Skinner said, looking ahead. "I don't think it has to have a massive overhaul, I think it’s got a lot of the key components we need.
"We're going to supplement [the existing squad] and find different tools for Europe. If we qualify for the Champions League [group stage] next year, we're going to have what the other teams have faced, midweek games and weekend games, so I've got to rotate better – I know that, but I haven't had to this season. There are all these little nuances, but we've got to go and get top players."
The United boss is keen to have players of a higher calibre and experience come in to raise the level, highlighting the example of Sam Kerr at Chelsea knowing what to do to change the biggest of games because it is ingrained in her psyche as a world class player.
"Emma Hayes doesn't have to tell Sam Kerr to run in behind, she hits that space…it's her psyche [already]. We've got players growing into that – they're young, so they're growing and learning that. We'll add that right quality and experience in," Skinner explained.
United have already moved in the transfer market to sign 18-year-old Evie Rabjohn from Aston Villa, with 17-year-old Scotland international Emma Watson also expected to join. 20-year-old England winger Katie Robinson is another emerging player of interest.
It forms part of a two-pronged recruitment strategy, with developing for long-term in mind but securing established senior targets to improve in the short-term. Spain international Maitane Lopez, 28, a former teammate and roommate of Ona Batlle at Levante, is believed to be one of the latter. United also signed Lisa Naalsund in January in that respect, yet to feature much because of injury.
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Having been heavily involved in off-field planning during his first year at the club, Skinner has taken a step back from that side of things, focusing more instead on managing and coaching the squad, since Polly Bancroft began work as head of women's football in October – she and overarching football director John Murtough will primarily oversee recruitment processes.
"I think I'm delivering what we can on the field and I believe the club are going to deliver what we need off the field. We have conversations and we’re talking to good players that are of the highest level. We'll keep doing that. What I can say is that we're going in for very good players [now] and we've got to try and get them across the line," he said.
Talks for prospective new signings have already been ongoing for some time. But the growth of the club will also see a dedicated head of recruitment appointed that will further streamline things at United and better allow them to compete with the likes of Chelsea at home and abroad.
United also remain hopeful that Alessia Russo and Ona Batlle, both out of contract next month with no outstanding extension options to be triggered, will sign new deals and stay.
Skinner admitted there is a 'possibility' each could have already played their last game at Leigh Sports Village in a United shirt. He stressed that while negotiations are still ongoing, the club will continue to move forward if either or both end up leaving.
"We hope they stay and we're still negotiating,” the boss explained. “If they're here [next season] we'll be great and if they're not here, we'll [still] be great. That's the defiance of me and this club – one player won't make a Manchester United team. That's got to be clear if we want to win things."
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