United’s approach to women’s football is long overdue a change
Check out the Manchester United Foundation website and you’ll come across Maria. Maria is a talented striker who scored goals for United’s Regional Talent Club and by all rights her story is an uplifting one. Yet, if Maria is to pursue a playing career she is more likely to don the blue of Manchester City and not United’s red. United still does not have women’s team.
It’s a credit to the Foundation that Maria has embraced the game and perhaps with a bit of luck she could become a professional footballer.
That Maria cannot aspire to represent United in a senior team seems remains bizarre, 12 years after the Glazer family closed the club’s women’s team. When City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa have women’s, teams, United’s absence stands out.
"If the Foundation wasn’t in my school. I would’ve never played football or been given the opportunity to play for Manchester United. I’ve made loads of friends and I am a much more confident person as a result."Maria
Across the continent major clubs such as Juventus, Fiorentina, Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique Lyonnais have established women’s teams. The women’s game is growing and United’s seeming indifference is disheartening and confusing.
United did have a women’s team when they absorbed Corinthians back in 2000. Unfortunately, the Glazer takeover in 2005 led to the team’s disbandment, with a spokesman justifying the decision by stating that “it was not part of their core business.” That particular team was not in the top two divisions of the old Women’s Premier League, but to end the project as ruthlessly as the club did looks shortsighted.
United’s blind spot regarding a women’s team doesn’t fit with the club’s outward ethos either. This is a club that supports the LGBT community, has its own powerchair football team, runs an FA Girls’ Regional Talent Club programme and operates numerous schemes with the goal of making a positive impact in people’s lives. The decision-makers clearly understand the need to engage with all of United’s followers and the responsibility for the club to make a difference in the community.
“It is a matter that is under review and a detailed analysis is currently being undertaken,” was United’s response when asked by the BBC earlier this year about the possibility of re-establishing a women’s team. The moral arguments are undeniable: the dream to represent United should be open to everyone.
Beyond the moral considerations it is baffling that a club as minded about public relations and as commercially savvy as United remains an outsider when it comes to women’s football. From a brand perspective it is extremely damaging because the question is rightly being asked. It’s one that will not go away either if the club maintains the status quo.
Rethinking past mistakes and reforming a women’s team is a no-brainer given the positive benefits it can bring to the club. One only needs to look at City’s approach to the women’s team; the Blues celebrated the loan signing of American international Carli Lloyd and hyped up the impending arrival of Danish striker Nadia Nadim, who will join in January. City gave fans new stars to support, while providing motivation to women who have ambitions to go into the professional game that not only can they have a career at City, but there’ll also be the opportunity to play with the best talent too.
On a European level Arsenal has already won the Women’s Champions League, being the first English club to do so while City and Birmingham City have reached the semi-final. United has a proud and pioneering European tradition having been the first English team to enter the European Cup in 1956 so to be lagging behind doesn’t sit well with the club’s ideals.
Given the amount of money United now rakes in through commercial and broadcast channels, there is no financial reason why a women’s team can’t be supported. If anything having a women’s team in the portfolio gives the marketing and commercial departments at Old Trafford another asset to monetize and that’s not to mention the players who could become new faces of United. Surely, a commercial machine as prolific as United’s could easily find prospective sponsors to partner with the women’s team.
Even if a women’s team wasn’t financially self-sustaining, there is a larger point. Women’s football is growing, meaning that from a corporate standpoint the club can easily absorb the cost while adding to its brand value and integrating the team into its “core business.”
With Sunday’s derby in mind, rivalries can be renewed on a new front with a new United women’s team facing Liverpool and City in the Women’s Super League. There is no sensible reason as to why one hasn’t been established already.
"Given the amount of money United now rakes in through commercial and broadcast channels, there is no financial reason why a women’s team can’t be supported."
More importantly creating a woman’s team is the right thing to do. United should actively look to set up a new team rather than keep plans in a state of perpetual review. United is already far behind as it is and it shouldn’t take pressure from the public, politicians or anyone else to spark the board into action.
One can only hope the Old Trafford club will get its act together sooner, not later. When the Board does, players like Maria can dream of donning the red of United as part of a fully fledged senior women’s team. Perhaps she’ll even write her name into the history books by lifting the Women’s Super League title or scoring the winner in the Champions League final.
Change is long overdue.