It was announced this week that Manchester United have caved to pressure and have finally put plans in place to introduce their first professional women’s football team. The FA will confirm in May whether their application to field a team in the women’s second tier league has been approved or not.
While United have had girls teams, with their Centre of Excellence catering for players until they’re 16, their senior women’s team was disbanded in 2005, with it not being deemed part of the club’s “core business”.
United’s owners, the Glazer family, are in the business of making profit and, simply put, women’s football doesn’t generate much cash.
Reports suggest that setting up and running a women’s team from scratch will cost the club around £5m, then a further £1m a year from that point onwards. In the grand scheme of things, that’s peanuts to a club like United, who have been revealed as the richest football club in the world for two years running.
The annual outlay for a women’s team could be less than the predicted £1m but the price paid would be a less successful team. It’s unlikely that United are taking part just for the sake of it but rather to compete with the two best teams out there at the moment, Manchester City and Chelsea.
These two rival clubs have pumped money in to both youth football and the women’s game to great success. They face each other in the FA Youth Cup final most seasons these days and currently occupy the top two spots in the women’s league.
United let their academy go to rot after Sir Alex Ferguson retired, leaving their current U-23 side facing likely relegation this season.
However, after recruiting Nicky Butt as Head of Academy and Kieran McKenna as the U-18 coach, they have seen a return to better days when it comes to youth football. McKenna’s side are favourites to win the title, currently seven points clear of the teams below them, albeit having played two more games.
Now that this priority is back in order, the club has now turned their attention to another area of the game that they let slide, and will likely invest to ensure they have a team worthy of the club.
While Real Madrid continue to shun the women’s game, United have opted to embrace it, despite stalling for several years. Withington’s former MP, John Leech, wrote a letter to the club in 2013 asking for the decision on the women’s team to be reconsidered.
“These matters are looked at from time to time and I understand the club is reviewing this again,” was the response from David Moyes, United’s manager at the time. “Once that review has been completed, the Club will evaluate the findings and make a decision.”
However, the club opted against bringing back the team then, while rivals City introduced their women’s team the following year.
Girls could play for United as youth level but when it came to making the step up to the professional game, they would have to look to other local teams. The girl’s team was largely funded by the Manchester United Foundation and was run separately from the club.
England and Manchester City star Izzy Christiansen, 18-year-old City forward Ella Toone, Liverpool’s Ellie Fletcher, Juventus’s Katie Zelem and the Chelsea keeper Fran Kitching all began their careers at United.
Emily Ramsey, from Salford, joined United’s ranks whens he was eight and plays for England. However, upon turning 17, signed for rivals Liverpool.
“I was there for eight years at United and I played all the way through but there was nowhere to go,” she said. “I can see the difference since coming here. I’m training with people better than me and older than me. That’s how I’m going to learn. At United I was the oldest one there and it wasn’t pushing me on. Liverpool’s definitely going to make me better.”
Earlier this year, United academy graduate, Phil Neville, took charge of the women’s national team and claimed he would urge his former club to take the female game more seriously. “A club of the size of United should be the leaders, the pioneers,” he said and has since hailed the decision as “great news”.
While advocates of the women’s game have been frustrated by United’s reluctance to get involved before now, they are no doubt delighted that the move has been made, given the further status it will give to the sport.
Going forward, presuming the FA accept United’s application, United would run trials in June.