Man United are making a statement but it's wrong

Man United are making a statement but it's wrong

England goalkeeper Mary Earps is set to leave Manchester United on a free transfer this summer and join Paris Saint-Germain after nearly two years of failed contract negotiations, but she is not alone. Sources have confirmed to ESPN that Nikita Parris, Lucia Garcia and captain Katie Zelem are also expected to leave the Red Devils, taking the backbone of Marc Skinner's squad with them.

This follows a week of bad PR for the club, where new minority owner Jim Ratcliffe admitted plans for the development of the women's team were “TBC” and news that the women's team would be moved out of their home at Carrington to make room for the men while their own facilities are renovated, with the men moving straight into portable facilities while the work is carried out, rather than uprooting both teams.

United are one of the biggest clubs in the world, if not the biggest. But if they don't take their women's team seriously, this could be the start of a downward slide.

Due to the poor treatment the women's team had had in one form or another since the 1970s, United entered into an official partnership with them in 2001 but then dissolved it shortly after Glazer's takeover in 2005. She said she “never had the intention to be involved in women's football at a high level”. And it was not part of the “main business”. The team, who were given second-hand clothes to wear and bottles of water as they left, were crushed. But as the women's game in England has gained momentum in recent years, many still ask: “Where is the Man United women's team?”

After a 13-year absence, the team was restructured in May 2018 and, on the surface, it has had a history of relative success since then. With a team swiftly built by former England captain and no-nonsense centre-back Casey Stoney – who had a clear vision and who led the transfer process as well as much of the day-to-day work in her first senior managerial position – promotion from the second tier came in their first season, as the only professional side in a semi-professional league.

The Women’s Super League (WSL) stabilised and they finished fourth in their first season (2019-20) and again in 2020-21. But at the end of the campaign, Stoney abruptly left her role, before reports emerged of deep dysfunction at United, with the manager and team facing continued uphill struggles.

As reported AthleticGoing on strike became an option for players who were struggling with substandard facilities and even housing. If these complaints came from a start-up club or an independently run outfit still trying to find its way on a minimal budget, they wouldn't be so disturbing. But they came from one of the richest clubs in the world.

There was a lot that was overlooked about the women's team.

Things improved after Skinner took charge in 2021, finishing fourth once again, followed by second in 2022–23 as the club further integrated the women's team and hired personnel to help run it, yet this only led to new problems with tangled business dealings in some areas.

Then there's the silver lining for United's women this season: Jim Ratcliffe and INEOS. A new friendly face to ease the toxicity unleashed on the historic club by the Glazer family. Or rather, the silver lining for the men's team – or as Ratcliffe recently called them, “the first team”.

In women's football, you get used to platitudes, lip service and PR speak that doesn't suggest much will actually change, but those with a microphone in front of them know the right thing to say to pacify the situation. Yet, Ratcliffe is different here, although given ample opportunity to say the right thing, the INEOS boss has a habit of saying things out of his mouth when answering questions about the women's team. It's clear they are an afterthought and that became clear when he was asked about the senior women's team by Bloomberg this week and admitted plans were “TBD”.

Of course, it will take time to fix what is wrong with the men's team, it will be a process for Ratcliffe and United, but the INEOS boss cannot simply tick off a to-do list and push the women's issues down like homework with a deadline later. The women's team is a vibrant unit, with players and staff, many of whom have expiring contracts, who need a reason to stay. Instead, they are being given reasons to leave.

Earps is one such player. England's No.1 first discussed a contract with United after the completion of Euro 2022 and while the transfer story in women's football is still something of a novelty – certainly involving multiple windows like Earps' – time is ticking like sand around the neck of a punter.

First Arsenal made a world record bid for the goalkeeper which was rejected last summer, then PSG entered the race in the winter and eventually agreed a deal to sign him this summer. Speaking to Sky Sports last month, Earps insisted any decision was driven by football and the club's ambitions, not (as most people assume in terms of transfers) money. He said“I have asked the club for some confirmation about what they are trying to achieve and once I have their answers I will be able to make a decision. It is up to the club.”

Clearly those answers, including Ratcliffe's most recent PR blunder, have not impressed him. And here United have only themselves to blame, not just for losing Earps – and before that a free player like England striker Alessia Russo to Arsenal – but also for a potential mass exodus of key players this summer.

United won the FA Cup last season with a stunning performance against Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley, but in a title-challenging season they finished fifth in the WSL, 20 points behind champions Chelsea, and missed out on the Women's Champions League.

The club could still get support from INEOS – Brighton's Elizabeth Terland has been linked with a move this summerAnd Skinner recently signed a new contract — but his detachment, lack of identity and continued questionable behavior toward his women's team suggest a different sentiment. And it actually doesn't seem too far off from the statement he made in 2005.

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