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Hey there!

As you may have read this week, it all looks a bit rotten over at Manchester United. The Reds achieved their worst ever Women's Super League position this season and still gave Marc Skinner further opportunity to fail upwards. I'd like to say 'and that's not even the half of it', but instead it appears that sustained mediocrity is, in fact, the sum total of the club's strategy for their women's side.

And the best part is they're not even ashamed to say it! 😍

For reasons which will become apparent in due course, today I have also been thinking about:
  • that bit in Frankenstein where he snogs his own dead mam (in a dream, obv)
  • which Shakespeare villain I would cast Sir Jim Ratcliffe as
  • how Mary Earps deserves better
  • where the fuck Monaco even is
I hope that it pleaseth you.

Love

Flora xx
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As The Gentle Rain

If renewing Marc Skinner’s contract is the thin end of the wedge, I don’t want to know just how rancid that thicker end gets for Manchester United Women.

The Reds have been slung out before, in 2005, when the club’s new owners, the Glazers, deemed the women’s side ‘unprofitable’ and promptly axed it — that is, until the late 2010s, when the women’s football train arrived at speed and the corpse’s cheeks were hastily rouged and re-animated.

After 13 years in the wilderness, Poof! it was all happy families at Manchester United Women FC. Here was Casey Stoney, former-England-star-turned-handy-coach, a hefty budget, and Oops! We’ve accidentally won the Championship in our first year of competing by virtue of being attached to a Big Boy of the footie world, skipping the pyramid queue and fast-tracking professionalisation like this is Sims 4 and we’ve just hit the Motherlode.

Women around Manchester United had every right to be aggrieved that the unbothered suits withheld the cheat codes for so long, but according to Shakespeare: “The quality of mercy is not strain’d, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes”.
Katie Zelem had been preparing to sit her GCSE English around the time that she was released after eight years of training at Manchester United in 2013. It wasn’t that she wasn’t good enough, it was just that United ran out of academy aged 16. From a family of Reds fans, Zelem, too, could reasonably begrudge having to go and join the senior professional set-up at arch rivals Liverpool until United came round to the idea that she and other women counted for anything.

I don’t know if Katie Zelem studied The Merchant of Venice, but she surely felt that blessing Portia preaches when, after accepting an invitation to return for United’s ‘inaugural’ season in 2018, she ended the season as the standout performer, the Reds as second-tier champions.

Once Stoney had Zel and co in the big time, she did more than just keep them there — upsetting the natural order of the WSL, United were immediately challenging for the top three, finishing fourth in back-to-back seasons. The ghosts of 2005 were barely discernible now, and forgiveness meant United could show up late and still be handed a flag to bear as a leading member of the new Women’s Super League frontier.

Not even a management change could destabilise this brave new force. United lost Casey Stoney in the summer of 2021 when she left to take the head coach role at NWSL side San Diego Wave, but a football director who gave a shit remained:

“Manchester United is completely committed to its Women’s team and to building on the legacy of Casey’s achievements as we move forwards,” John Murtough said on Stoney’s departure.

“With the recent historic first game at Old Trafford and the impact the team has made in the Women’s Super League, the future is bright.

“While we will be sad to see Casey leave, the team and the operation will continue to go from strength to strength.”

It’s hard to believe that, here, ‘strength to strength’ means recruiting Marc Skinner but, stuff your ears with cotton wool, Skinner’s arrival isn’t a total catastrophe. For Zelem, a Manchester gal, the chance to compete in the Champions League and lift an FA Cup trophy wearing the shirt of her dreams probably justified the daily interactions with a roll-neck powered by Argos catalogue wisdoms.
To fans, the Reds’ FA Cup triumph was a promise, a waymark on the path to Valhalla. But to Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the new multi-billionaire stakeholder hoping to right a ship badly listing, the FA Cup is a full stop, a lazy answer to a question he’d prefer to ignore, one of a thousand boxes at Old Trafford that is helpfully ticking itself.

Elsewhere — the roof is falling down, the Premier League side a shadow of the team which terrorised my childhood. With a raft of Ratcliffe revolutions incoming, the club’s vast global fanbase are agog. That he should have handed a juicy transfer window eve exclusive to Bloomberg, a global business news agency who lists stock prices on their homepage, tells you exactly what kind of cunt we’re dealing with.

Football is business, and this is never more true than in Manchester, where the two Prem giants attract as much income to the city as would hosting every single quadrennial edition of the Olympics, according to research by Dr Gary James.
But Ratcliffe failed on all of the Olympian values of excellence, respect and friendship when he answered Bloomberg reporter Francine Lacqua’s question about what he’ll do with the women’s side: “Well, they’ve just won the FA Cup.”

Then, silence. With the reporter scrabbling for something closer to ‘news’ than a fact available on the women’s side Wikipedia page, she wonders aloud whether United might follow the example of Chelsea. But Ratcliffe isn’t rattled by the mention of a club who had bagged two WSL titles by the time his even turned up.

“We haven’t got into that level of detail with the women’s football team yet,” he reveals with all the irritability of a grandad who can't understand why the washing up should come between him and his post-dinner nap.

“We’ve pretty much focussed on how we resolve the first team [the men’s Premier League side].

“‘And that’s been pretty full time for the first six months.”

Hey Jim, where's your famous strategy? Y'know, the one that made you the second richest man in the UK? For anyone who struggled to keep up, the reporter helpfully summarised his plans for the women’s side: “So… TBC?”

“Correct.”

‘Oof. You, Jim, with your straight-talking no-bullshit corporate-speak — YOU can come again. This is exactly what the great Manchester United has been missing under the tyrannous rule of the feckless Glazers.’ That is the view that characterises the majority of YouTube comments on Ratcliffe's Bloomberg tell-all.

Among the most popular comments are @RayFost’s observation that, Sir Jim is a local Manchester lad who has done immensely well.”

“A reminder that you don't have to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth to be successful,” he goes on. “His pride in his hometown and club is a joy to see.”
The son of a joiner, Ratcliffe grew up in Failsworth, a Lancashire mill town four miles north-east of Manchester which happens also to be the hometown of United skipper Katie Zelem. In a part of the country which values hard work and humility, Failsworth’s ‘notable people’ on Wikipedia recognises the achievements of their tax haven poster boy, while Zelem’s England caps go unremarked.

Still, Zelem’s struggles with United's periodically faulty women’s set-up have left her with a girl-next-door-warmth which means you can imagine her making friends with a silverfish in a night club toilet.

Fortunately, his tax exile status permits Ratcliffe to spend a maximum of 90 days in the UK per year. It should be easy to avoid him.

More at The Square Ball

Sarah Danby on the ball for Leeds United Women in front of the big stand at Garforth

The Keys To The Pitch

by Flora Snelson

Who is at home? In women's football, writes Flora Snelson, home advantage often comes second to just having anywhere to play at all.
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