A LOT has happened this summer with Man United Women — uncertainty over the club’s future with the departure of Casey Stoney, talk of the players approaching the PFA to request support in improving the club’s management of the women’s team and, on top of that, a flurry of new signings following the departure of way too many of the first team squad. Let’s take a look at all these changes and see what it could mean for a team that looked certain to achieve greatness.
Stoney Resigns: Uncertainty Abound
Manchester United delayed launching a senior women’s team after they first disbanded in 2005 because (brace yourselves) the club never intended to get involved with women’s football at a higher level and women’s football didn’t form a part of their “core business.”
In 2018, though, that all changed as United suddenly swooped in and signed up a bevy of players from top flight football to form a women’s team that easily won the Women’s Championship. With Casey Stoney masterminding the charge, Man United Women finished 4th in top flight football for the next two seasons.
Stoney’s foresight and intelligent recruitment, management, and overall human touch helped her build a core group of players with whom United first got a taste of success: gaining promotion into the Women’s Super League and looking like they’d break into the top three, which has been dominated by Arsenal, Chelsea, and cross-town rivals Manchester City. The team failed to maintain this level of success and slipped near the end of the season, missing out on Champions League football. Shortly after, Stoney resigned from her managerial role earlier this May.
This might’ve come as a shock but the writing was on the wall for anyone who was paying attention. According to The Guardian, tension was brewing for a while, primarily over the training facilities for the women’s team. A series of injuries led the women’s team to move training from Leigh Sports Village to Carrington, but they needed to adjust around the men’s schedule instead of having their own designated schedule. United stated back in 2018 that they intended to improve facilities at The Cliff for the women’s team, something that’s still not been done.
Players Approaching the FA amidst Chaos and Confusion
The Athletic reported that Manchester United Women’s players were planning to approach the PFA and request support and advice in improving the club’s approach to the women’s team. According to The Athletic, the players were frustrated by the club’s failure to find a successor to the former manager in a timely manner. They were informed that the club had a shortlist of potential candidates, but were given no further details. Now, normally this shouldn’t be a surprise because players aren’t given every detail about the ins and outs of new managers but players supposedly felt like they were left in the dark and unclear about the club’s plans for the new season.
Stoney’s former assistant Martin Ho had prepared to take over pre-season training while the search for a new head coach continued, but not much else was done to add to the players’ ranks as a series of departures were announced earlier in the summer.
A New United
On top of losing a head coach, the club’s starting lineup looked a little sparse with the departure of several first-team players: Megan Hornby, Lauren James, Abby McManus, Jane Ross, Jess Sigsworth, Amy Turner, and USWNT duo Tobin Heath and Christen Press all departed over the summer and, you’ll have noticed fans freaking out as these departures were announced (if you were paying attention to the club’s social media).
With the sirens going off, United wasted little time trying to find replacements for these players along with a new head coach.
Marc Skinner was confirmed as the Man United Women head coach in late July, on a two year contract with the option to extend for another year.
Skinner formerly managed Birmingham in the WSL, and he left for the United States to manage Orlando Pride in 2019. On his appointment as manager at United, Skinner said, “it’s a wonderful day in my life. One that I’m going to cherish for the rest of my life.”
Skinner also said that he wanted United to play in an adaptive and attacking style, and thinks that the experience he brings from the NWSL can help United better their performance this season.
“I think that this is just going to be a wonderful challenge for everyone. I want an adaptive team that doesn’t just have one way of playing. [I learned at Birmingham] that our teams were very ball possession-based,” he said. “In America, I tried that in the first year and it didn’t work out…. So I want us to be adaptive, but I want to play attacking [and exciting] football, which is a brand of football that Manchester United fans expect.”
Vilde Bøe Risa
The Norwegian international midfielder joined United on a two-year contract from her native Sandviken. Risa spent her career playing in Norway and Sweden, having won the Swedish Cup in 2019 and the Damallsvenskan the next year with Göteborg FC.
Risa has 37 caps for Norway and 2 goals to her name, and looks like she’ll be part of the 3- or 5-woman midfield, depending on Skinner’s formation.
Blundell joined United during the summer after spending 9 seasons at Chelsea. The 27-year-old has 3 caps for England and her move to United was part of the transfer that saw former Red Lauren James move to Chelsea. Blundell should, in theory, provide competition for Martha Harris and Ona Batlle — our Player of the Year last season — for a starting spot. She suffered a quad injury that sidelined her for 11 weeks in the 2019-2020 season and, despite signing a new contract that would keep her at Chelsea until June 2022, she dropped out of the starting lineup, starting just 6 of Chelsea’s 39 matches.
Baggaley represented England at multiple youth levels and played for Birmingham City before joining Bristol City on a loan and eventually transferring there. The 24-year-old played against United Women plenty, and joined the Red Devils after her contract at Bristol City expired. She’s no stranger to coming up against the United attack and will be added to an already impressive lineup of keepers, joining the ranks of Mary Earps, Fran Bentley, and Emily Ramsey. How Baggaley will fare is interesting for sure, with Earps having been former manager Stoney’s first-choice goalkeeper. With a new manager, though, Baggaley could well stake a claim for United’s primary shot-stopper.
Mannion joins from our noisy neighbours, transferring after her contract with City expired, and she appears to be just what United need. The experienced centre-back has years of experience in top-flight football and is an ideal replacement for both.
The 25-year-old has several years of experience in the top-flight and makes for the ideal replacement for both Amy Turner and Abby McManus, who left gaping holes in United’s defence. Mannion was named in the WSL Team of the Year back to back in the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 seasons for her performances in Birmingham City.
The Scottish striker joined United from West Ham. With 8 goals in her 26 WSL appearances, Thomas is just what United’s attack needs after several strikers departed the club over the summer. Thomas also brings experience from having played for the Charlotte 49ers during her time in UNC Charlotte and French team Le Havre in 2019.