By 90Min
October 26, 2019

In 2018, Manchester United announced they were finally forming a women's football team and everyone was delighted. 

This seemed quite a peculiar thing to get excited about; why were we celebrating Manchester United waiting until 2018 to offer women the same opportunities as men? 

Even my sixth form had cobbled together a women's football team in 2012, and, without any disrespect to our PE department, my Ipswich-based comprehensive school (rated 'good' by Ofsted) was not the footballing powerhouse that Manchester United are. No offence, Mrs Thompson, I know you tried your best. 

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What was ridiculous about Manchester United's stubbornness in refusing to have a women's team was that they actually had a successful girl's academy. This meant girls were allowed to play football for Manchester United...until they were 17. Then what? They'd just grown out of it? 

It seemed almost like Manchester United were run by the strict, Indian mum from Bend it Like Beckham; 'We let you play all you wanted when you were younger. You've played enough.'

Manchester United's new team were immediately placed into WSL 2 - the second tier. Despite neglecting the women's game for 47 years, the Red Devils would be playing a league above women's football pioneers Doncaster Rovers Belles, six-time FA Cup winners, who pulled out of the WSL as they could not compete financially.  

United had effectively bought their way into the second tier. It had shades of the 2004 MK Dons controversy in the men's game. 

United instantly attracted names well above their WSL 2 status. Casey Stoney, tipped by many as the natural successor to Phil Neville as England manager, took the reins. Alex Greenwood, Siobhan Chamberlain and Katie Zelem were among a number of players to drop down a division to play for Manchester United, such was the attraction. Understandably, they strolled to the WSL 2 title and took their place among English football's elite, having only existed for one year. 

Evidently, I was not a big advocate for Manchester United women's team. So how have they won this sceptic over?

Style of Play

Casey Stoney has got her side playing really attractive, possession-based football. On the opening day of the season, United played local rivals City at the Etihad in front of a record crowd. 

City had narrowly missed out on the title the previous year, and possessed one of the strongest squads in the league. 

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The Red Devils could easily have let the occasions get the better of them, but they were cool as you like in playing the ball out from the back. Despite going into the match as huge underdogs, they really took the game to Man City, only losing to a wonder goal. 

United's promising performances soon saw them pick up victories, where their slick football and patient buildup have remained a constant. Leah Galton giving fullbacks the runaround is particularly exciting to watch.

They Have No Star Player

Dutch midfielder Jackie Groenen is the only Manchester United squad member to play regularly for a top 20 international side, but the team does not revolve around her. Groenen is not pivotal to whether United win or lose. 

Instead, Casey Stoney has put together a squad of rounded players and created a well-oiled machine. This is quite rare for a WSL side. If you look at the Chelsea, Arsenal or Man City squad, you can pick out their world-class superstars. 

In the Reading team, Fara Williams and Jade Moore are two irreplaceable figures. This does not appear to be the case at Manchester United. They are simply a very good team.

They are Capable of Bridging the Gap 

Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City have finished in the top three without fail for the past five consecutive WSL seasons. Birmingham challenged the trio last season, but lost Ellen White and Aoife Mannion to Man City in the summer and have since struggled. 

Reading are the pick of the chasing pack, but they arguably don't have the resources to compete with the quality of the top three. 

United could be the team to rock the boat. Their recent Continental Cup victory over Manchester City shows they are capable of more than just competing with the top sides. If they can record league wins over City, Chelsea or Arsenal, it will make title race and Champions League battle very interesting. 

Lauren James

You just know when you're watching someone very special, and Lauren James is that someone.

The 18-year-old makes everything look effortless. She seems to have more time on the ball than anyone else, her feet are mesmerising and her intelligence and composure are remarkable. James is the sort of player to get excited about going to watch. She adds a splash of pizazz to this Manchester United machine.

The Fans

United pull in big attendances. It is perhaps a sad inditement on the women's game in the UK that clubs are reliant on the prestige of their male counterparts to attract a big crowd. But the fact is that despite only existing for little over a year, Manchester United women will always be better attended than Doncaster Rovers Belles simply because they are Manchester United. 

Over 2,000 United fans saw them play Arsenal for their opening home game of the season on a Monday night. This was nearly double the size of the crowd who turned out to watch Man City play Atletico Madrid in their crucial Champions League clash. 

United have a strong fan base, create a great atmosphere, and have added a new dynamic to the WSL.

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