Manchester United should not be forced into setting up a women’s team they have shown they do not want.
A web search for something as simple as “Manchester United women” will instantly throw up a plethora of articles from disgruntled journalists about the Red Devils lack of a women’s section. Never really thought about it? Go on and have a quick look… see, they’re everywhere!
The women’s football world has longed for a United women’s team since the Glazers came in and dissolved the pre-existing team that had only been active for five years. The line from the new owners simply that the women’s team wasn’t part of the “core business” and as many will be familiar with, owning a football club has little to do with putting the ball in the back of the net. Football clubs are glorious and expensive status symbols that their owners will hope make a profit and don’t just become a vacuum for their own cash – whilst there are certainly exceptions, the Glazers are here to make money, not friends. Which is their prerogative.
If you are at all active in the WoSo world, even just as a fan, you will be aware you cannot go three months without seeing yet another article about United’s lack of team and how they’re now the last Premier League side without one. One of the more quiet yet distinct voices to be heard is that of The FA who are absolutely chomping at the bit for the Glazers to have a change of heart. Recently – after the announcement of their intention to put in a bid to host the next European Championships - FA chief executive Martin Glenn made a comment about United being a “smart organisation” which he hopes will help them to “figure out it’s in their interest” to set up a WSL team.
In fact, even with the advent of the new women’s league in England – as of yet, unnamed – the guidelines for application left the door open for both Manchester United and Southampton (who have a newly set up U21 team). The FA want to see their league grow and they, like many within women’s football, want to see United’s brand power at work – United’s healthy bank-balance is hardly a negative.
Under review, or, "thanks but no thanks"
The repeated line from United is that the situation is “under review” as it has been for a number of years, the Red Devils have sent out a very clear message without implicitly stating it; they do not want a women’s team. They cost money, they are time and effort and why do they need one? They have Manchester United men, the team, the brand, the cash-cow, even when United don’t bring home the silverware their bank balance hardly feels it.
Many will be aware that there is an affiliated under-16 team that goes by the name of Manchester United whose players don the familiar red kits. The team – run as a Regional Talent Club – have been vastly successful and have seen many prominent players come through over the last few years. However, when they get too old, they have to look elsewhere, usually opting for neighbouring Liverpool or Manchester City (or in the case of England U23 international Gabby George, Everton), a fact United fans have long since been upset about. It should also be stated that the bulk of the funding for the U16s doesn’t come from United but rather rely of grants as they’re run by the Manchester United Foundation.
Now this is where many people chime in and say, “But a club like Manchester City, the biggest club in the world, how dare they do such a disservice to women’s football?!” But, in this reporter’s opinion, is the wrong reaction. United have shown time and again that they simply don’t want a women’s team, trying to bully them into in through repeated side-eyeing and shade-ridden articles won’t do a damn thing. In fact, even if United did relent and create a team it wouldn’t be out of wanting to be the best but rather something to get people to finally shut up, which is entirely the wrong mindset to go into it with.
The other side of town
When Manchester City found themselves in WSL 1, it wasn’t an organic move, they were rather catapulted into the league. It wasn’t a move without its consequences with the Doncaster Belles losing their top tier status – and whilst the Belles have struggled since and could possibly have been relegated anyway, it certainly didn’t and hasn’t helped them.
Since their arrival in WSL 1, City have undoubtedly raised the bar and pushed the level of football in England although it’s possibly a level most can’t keep up with, the league rather fragmenting itself as it desperately tries to keep pace with the likes of City and Chelsea. For the purpose of this article, the focus will be on the Citizens not just as their spell at the highest level is a new one but as they’re also United’s cross-town rivals.
Whilst the City team had existed for a long while in one form or another it was the bye into WSL 1 that saw things radically change in Manchester, the club not shy about pouring money in to create the best environment for their players. The facilities and set-up enough to attract some of the bigger names in the country, and their results speak for themselves. But it remains clear that City care about their team, about having happy players who can and do tap into their best football, they want to be the best.
For Manchester United, even when they had a team, this doesn’t feel like it would be the case, the players were notified by letter that they were surplus when the Glazers decided to axe the team, the players well used to rummaging through academy kit-bags for clothes. Whilst this was many years ago, it’s hard to imagine the owners would suddenly have Ebenezer Scrooge-like change of heart and open their wallets to buy the team the biggest goose in the butcher’s window.
So why have a U16 team at all? Simply put, every team is required to have a U16 girls team if they wish to run a boy’s academy, so without the girls, United wouldn’t have the likes of Marcus Rashford or Jesse Lingard.
Hypothetically, let us say that United had applied for tier one status – as they are free to do as they have an affiliated club playing in England – and got one. There would undoubtedly be a mixed reaction from fans, another team kicked to the front of the queue without waiting their turn, though of course, many would be happy. So, let’s weigh this up and focus on the United brand.
They are a team synonymous with success in both England and Europe, their fan base across the world in staggering, though it’s hard to pin down exactly how many people consider themselves “fans” let’s just say it’s more than you can fit in a Range Rover. Logic dictates that whilst not every fan would suddenly rush to a women’s game – especially the many based outside of UK shores – there would indeed be a spike in interest, most notably from the locals. [Note: Of Manchester United’s many fans there is a surprising number who enjoy women’s football and in their endeavour to support it opt to support either Liverpool or City, a quite baffling notion.]
Despite not being the most successful team in England today, the Fergie-years and still fresh in the memory, the world still deeply enamoured with their Red Devils. If they were to have a team in the new league, they may very well have their pick of players too, not just at home but from the more technically gifted nations in Scandinavia. A strikingly large number of footballers around the world having grown up idolising some of the greats to have played at Old Trafford, boys and girls alike.
It’s highly likely, when looking back at City, that had they not been fast-tracked into WSL 1, the team would slowly have grown, getting stronger each year, promotion after promotion, finally ended up – the original way – in the top tier. But again, that would be because the club cares about their women’s section, they would have taken the time and the effort. City ensure their players are happy and taken care of both off the pitch so they can focus themselves entirely on playing their best football, the little details something not catered for at every club.
So back to United, as we’ve seen they have little interest in a women’s team but if they were to say, “Ahh, g’wan then,” as if they’d been asked if they could stay for a quick one, they’d have to pull players in left, right and centre. Coaching staff, a medical team, facilities, kits that fit – a hefty tab being rung up – there would be much they’d have to get ready in time. But still the question of how much interest they’d take in the team remains, would it be the bare minimum or would they go above and beyond for their women’s team to make them the best in England? Of course, there would be natural derbies with Liverpool and City, an incentive to beat the established former champions and the new kids on the block who’ve made a habit of picking up silverware. Teams you’d never want to lose to. But would this United team invest as City, Chelsea and Arsenal have? Would they care about women’s football, as we have seen from other teams? Or would they just have a women’s team for the sake of having a women’s team, maybe just even to pacify their critics?
My opinion remains the latter, the indifference and implied distaste for a women’s team comes off of United in waves, this isn’t a club that wants a women’s team, if they wanted one they’d set one up. There is no incentive that hasn’t already been offered that has enticed them, unless they’re bound by new FA rules, they won’t set up a women’s team. And frankly, that’s fine. Yes, it’s a shame for women’s football, not just in England but globally but given the level of nurturing required to set up a team and make it successful, better to have those who actually care and want to make something special than those who dig in their heels and moan about it.