Manchester United are gearing up for the next stage of their women’s football project after deciding on Polly Bancroft to become the club’s first dedicated head of women’s football.
Bancroft has previously worked at UEFA and the FA and is currently general manager of Brighton, one of the WSL clubs that has made the most progress in recent years. She describes herself as an ‘experienced project and people manager in European football and business development’.
After three years as a project manager within the FA, she was recruited by UEFA as a business development specialist and designed their famous Together #WePlayStrong campaign. Bancroft went on to join Brighton in October 2020 and has been general manager for just under two years.
At Brighton, she was tasked with overseeing the club’s women’s football operation from first-team level down through the academy age groups and worked with staff across all areas of the club from technical to medical, operations, marketing and commercial.
United are seeking to compete with Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City on the pitch, but have lacked the same specialised support and senior management structure as their rivals off the pitch. All three WSL giants have either a dedicated head of women’s football or general manager.
Until now, Steve Deaville, United’s director of football finance had served as a de facto general manager of the women’s team. In his former role as head of football development, John Murtough played a central role in recruiting for the reformed first-team squad in 2018 and has continued to support the team. But his promotion to football director in 2021 carried huge new challenges.
Conversations with potential candidates were being held way back in March and the club was keen to take its time to make sure that the eventual appointment was the right one.
Head coach Marc Skinner said of the search during the season: “When they come in, they will have wonderful support; wonderful club to build from.”
In an interview with behindsport last month, Bancroft highlighted the importance of Brighton having a dedicated facility for women and girls. At United, the club has invested in the training ground in recent months, getting two new training pitches ready for pre-season and working on a facility to house the women’s team for the coming years. It spells progress.
Skinner, who was appointed last summer to replace Casey Stoney, had been tasked during his first year in charge with using his experience of the women’s game to help shape the club’s long-term vision for the future. Discussions about budget have formed a significant part of that, with United seeking to make the women’s setup more self-sustaining with its own revenue that can be re-invested.
Bancroft stands to bring experience and specialised know-how to the vital newly created position for which the search began as early as December to find a suitable candidate. Her role will be crucial when it comes to key pillars like recruitment and overall strategy.
The arrival of Bancroft, which is set to happen once her notice period at Brighton has been served, will also allow Skinner to put more of his focus back on managing the team on the pitch.
Among her first major tasks will be persuading Alessia Russo to sign a new contract. The striker was one of the breakout stars of Euro 2022 and rejected the offer of a fresh deal shortly before the tournament – she is now in the option year of her current contract that expires in 2023.