LIVERPOOL, England – Some of the changes have been minimal, so minimal as to be imperceptible, at least from the outside. This summer, for the first time, Everton hired someone specifically to take care of the women’s team kits. It’s the kind of thing that reminds us that a lot of small battles are still being won in women’s football.
These small changes, however, always have an impact; they still offer marginal gain. The laundry will no longer have to be done by another staff member, someone who should be analyzing videos or scheduling coaching sessions, or even by the players themselves. All the saved time can now be used. Everything can be just a little bit better.
And some of the changes have been significant, such as the nine new players who have joined the Everton squad over the past few months. There is Toni Duggan, an English national expert, German defender Leonie Maier, Italian midfielder Aurora Galli and three players signed by Rosengard, the awaiting champion from Sweden, nicknamed the Swedish House Mafia by their new teammates.
The biggest change, at least as far as club manager Willie Kirk is concerned, is the hardest one to describe. This struck him, most clearly, while he was with his team at a preseason pitch in Scotland last month. Something, he could tell, had clicked.
“Maybe it’s self-confidence,” he said, trying to put his finger on it. “Maybe it’s the feeling of seeing another player walk in the door and think: yes, it’s another quality purchase. Maybe it’s knowing that no player can be sure of starting the next game and that competition drives standards. “
Kirk may not be able to name it, not exactly, but he’s happy to talk about it. The first time Izzy Christiansen, the club’s highly experienced midfielder, sat down with Kirk – in the winter of 2019 – his lingering impression was of a manager who had absolutely “no fluff,” he said. he has declared. He didn’t try to explain to her why he should sign with Everton.
“There was no field,” Christiansen said. He just offered her a coffee – “It’s a way to get me to join a club,” she said – and explained how he viewed her as a player, what he thought it would bring. to the team and what he and his club were trying to do. “It was a matter of fact,” he said.
It’s exactly the same when it comes to his intentions for his team. “We don’t hesitate to be ambitious,” Kirk said.
Significantly, when asked if the plan for the season was to take on the English Women’s Super League greats – Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal – when the season opens on Saturday, Christiansen recalibrated the question. “This is what we intend to do,” he said. “To compete and outdo each other. We want to bring the club back to the Champions League, where it belongs. “
Of course, the women’s football landscape has undergone a drastic change, both domestically and in Europe, in the decade or so since Everton last honored the competition. In the early 2010s, Everton’s rivals for a seat were Arsenal, Birmingham City, Liverpool. They were teams mostly populated by British players; few, if any, have trained in the same facilities as their respective men’s teams.
The WSL 2021 is radically different: dominated by multi-lingual teams made up, at great cost, of Chelsea, City and Arsenal. The former has not only the most expensive player of all time, striker Pernille Harder, but also the highest paid player in the world, Sam Kerr.
Manchester City can rely on the backbone of the England national team – captain Steph Houghton, Lucy Bronze, Ellen White, half a dozen others – and have enough leverage to try. one of Everton’s best players, Australian winger Hayley Raso, in Manchester this summer. Arsenal, meanwhile, can boast of having perhaps the best player in the world: Dutch striker Vivianne Miedema. Friday took one of the American stars Tobin Heath.
These three teams have remained, almost undisputed, at the top of the WSL for quite some time. They have teamed up to win the last five titles – Chelsea have won three – and have represented every English place in the Champions League since 2014. They are, as Kirk admitted, a formidable barrier.
Still, the club thinks it can break this stranglehold. “I made it clear to the players that in order to do that we will have to overcome our weight in terms of budget,” he said. “Finance comes into play, but we feel like we’re there. “
He is credited with the “smart” recruitment of the club, led by its sporting director, Sarvar Ismailov, grandson of Alisher Usmanov, business partner of Everton majority owner Farhad Moshiri, who has now been appointed to the club’s board of directors . – for much of this growth. “We have to be flexible and we have to be smarter,” Kirk said.
Within the club, Ismailov is credited with both a keen sense of talent and an ability to negotiate: there is, Kirk previously and approvingly said, “not much in women’s football than the like”. It was Ismailov who spearheaded the campaign for perhaps Everton’s biggest summer signing, 18-year-old Swedish midfielder Hanna Bennison, the club’s record signing.
But this is only one element. When he thinks back to the club he joined almost two years ago, Christiansen now sees “something special”, something Kirk doesn’t just trace back to the group of new players.
“We’ve improved our work practices,” he said, a category that likely includes hiring a uniformed assistant. “We have signed many of the previous winners. We’ve always had a positive environment, but it nurtures a winning culture. “
It’s a trend he sees throughout the club. Everton is working on building a new stadium (mainly) for their men’s team. The last two coaches of the men’s team, Carlo Ancelotti and Rafa Benítez, are both Champions League winners. The ambition for the women’s team, in Kirk’s eyes, is no different from the ambition for the men’s team.
Perhaps, however, this relationship does not work as often as it is described. Everton was sentenced – for economic reasons more than anything else – to life in prison in the first midfield of the Premier League. It would cost the club hundreds of millions of dollars in transfer fees just to hope to reform the men’s teams of Manchester City and Chelsea.
In women’s football, however, she can now see herself as a force. He can talk about winning a place in the Champions League, and he can think, not without doing anything, of winning a championship. He can imagine meeting clubs that exist on a different layer in men’s football as something the same in women’s football.
It wasn’t cheap – Bennison alone cost a “substantial six-figure sum” to convince Rosengard – and it wasn’t easy. But Everton, unlike many of its peers in the no-man’s-land below the Premier League elite, now have the edge: a chance to compete, challenge and perhaps outdo. This momentum has not shifted from the men’s team to the women’s team, but rather the opposite.
That’s what all these changes, big and small, have brought about: a club that still has a stage to be truly ambitious on and a team that isn’t afraid to talk about it.
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