The 2020/21 WSL season ended more two months ago and the 2021/22 WSL is only seven weeks away, but there finally appears to be some positive news for Manchester United fans following the most difficult period in the club’s short history.
The announcement of Casey Stoney’s resignation came out of the blue in May, but was later revealed to have followed several months of behind the scenes frustration over training facilities.
When Stoney was recently unveiled as the head coach of the fledgling San Diego NWSL franchise, the new club were praised for landing one of the brightest young coaching talents in the game.
For United, to lose her was a blow. Even more of a blow has been the club’s slow appointment of a replacement. The Athletic reported at the start of July that players have been frustrated by the situation, having been made aware some time ago that process had whittled a shortlist down to two final candidates. But the squad has felt left in the dark over the club’s ambitions.
At last, there appears to be some movement after BBC Sport’s Emma Sanders tweeted on Friday that United are down to ‘finalising contract details’ with the new boss.
Recruitment, or the lack thereof has also been a sore sport for fans. United supporters have seen Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea all push ahead with deals to strengthen, the latter have even agreed the transfer of United starlet Lauren James. Everton, too, have recruited strongly in a bid to close the gap on the top three and leapfrog United in the process.
It was probably time for the likes of Jess Sigsworth and Jane Ross to move on if United are to reach the elite level in women’s football in England and in Europe. But Tobin Heath and Christen Press couldn’t be persuaded to stay for a second season, while losing influential defender Amy Turner is a blow and the aforementioned James is a generational talent who will thrive at Chelsea.
United risk going backwards without strong recruitment, a situation which has been left in limbo without a manager to help guide it, but the first signing of the summer appears to be just around the corner in the shape of Norway international Vilde Boe Risa.
The talented midfielder, who has been at Sandviken back home this year but previously won a Swedish title with Kopparbergs/Goteborg, appears to have had her registration with the Norwegian federation updated in recent days to reflect a change of club to United.
It is a start but more new faces are needed and particularly forwards. United fans hold onto hope that prolific striker Bethany England will be the Chelsea player included in the deal for James, which is rumoured to be worth up to £200,000 in total. England was WSL and FWA player of the year in 2019 but has slipped out of favour in a fiercely competitive Chelsea squad.
United still have plenty of questions to answer and much to prove, however.
One regrettable black mark this week saw key defender Millie Turner referred to as Amy, her former defensive partner who is now in Orlando, in the adidas launch material for the new home kit. Turner called it out on social media and, even though it was adidas’ mistake, United have to ensure their female players are treated to the same standard as their male counterparts.
The second of two damning recent reports from The Athletic suggested that a substandard training pitch may have been to blame for the number of injuries that United players suffered in the second half of last season, ultimately derailing their challenge for a Champions League place.
It is also that the arrival of USWNT duo Tobin Heath and Christen Press, both used to world class facilities, proved to be turning point for the rest of the squad as the Americans were surprised by that they were greeted with and the rest realised that things could and should be far better.
The squad moved training base to the club’s main Carrington complex midway through last season, but their pitch has been beset with drainage problems. United have said all the right words about improving facilities, but promises to fix the issue before the new season seemingly didn’t materialise and now it may be November before the work is carried out, The Athletic says.
Clearly, not all the problems are a quick fix, but United still have time to turn things around before the new season and make sure 2021/22 doesn’t see the club go backwards after three consecutive successful years since they were formed. However that window is fast closing and there is now minimal scope for further delays or mistakes.