Why are United ignoring the women?

Opinion

When Manchester City announced the signing of two-time women’s world player of the year, Carli Lloyd, recently, it was another signal of intent from the City Football Group (CFG) when it came to women’s football. CFG are making a statement that women’s football is a big part of their long term strategy. Upon signing, Lloyd remarked that she wanted to win the Women’s Champions League during her short-term deal and it’s a real possibility. To be in with a chance, City’s Women have a quarter-final to negotiate against Danish side Fortuna Hjørring in order to progress.

Since becoming officially supported by CFG and their coffers, City Women have gone on to join the expanded Women’s Super League, have won their first trophy (the FA WSL Cup) and have benefitted from investment in improving training and stadium facilities. It’s not just in Manchester that CFG have identified that putting resources behind women’s football might benefit them in the long run. Melbourne City Woman went unbeaten on their way to the 2015/16 W-League over in Australia.

In stark contrast, we have United’s approach to women’s football. The club haven’t had a senior women’s team since 2005, with it being dropped two months before the Glazer takeover. “Not part of the core business,” was the official line. The club has been lobbied and written to, with various articles having been written on the absence of a senior women’s side over the last few years. The time must be on the horizon for the club to review their stance.

There’s a few glaring reasons why. Not having a senior side doesn’t mean that girls aren’t offered the opportunity to train and play for the club. United are actually fairly successful in youth women’s football. United’s youth sides go up to under 17 level, and they finished runners up to Arsenal in the FA Youth Cup final in 2016. While there’s a potential pathway open for the Arsenal girls to progress to the senior side, once United’s players are too old for the under 17 side, they’re cast aside. Let go and the club readily accepts that they’ll either join up with a rival, or drop out of the game completely. Either of those options wouldn’t be acceptable for the men’s team, so why is it fine for the women’s?

It’s hugely surprising that the club, with all its commercial and strategic experience and expertise, don’t think there’s an opportunity with women’s football. The 2015 World Cup seemed to be when women’s football really exploded. A reported 750 million people across the globe watched the tournament. England’s third place finish catapulted some of the Lionesses into the limelight. Steph Houghton being one of them, and Manchester City again capitalised on this by having the England captain appear alongside some of the men’s team for their 2016/17 kit launch. The culmination of this to-date has been the inclusion of women’s football in the EA Sports FIFA game series. A huge forward step for the popularity of the game.

City Women fit seamlessly into the CFG club portfolio because they have just that, a vast portfolio of different clubs. It works. Of course, United don’t follow this approach, but as we all know, they have a huge number of official commercial partnerships. A move into women’s football would surely open up new potential commercial avenues for the club to explore. It’s a new arrow in their bow to attract new partners, and strengthen ties with existing ones. I’m sure Chevrolet or Adidas wouldn’t sniff at the chance to market their products to a different audience.