Everton women don't hesitate to be ambitious

LIVERPOOL, England – Some of the changes have been minimal, so minimal they are imperceptible, at least from the outside. This summer, ...


LIVERPOOL, England – Some of the changes have been minimal, so minimal they are imperceptible, at least from the outside. This summer, for the first time, Everton hired someone specially to look after the uniforms for their women’s team. It’s the kind of thing that reminds us that in women’s football a lot of little battles are still won.

These small changes, however, always have an impact; they still offer a marginal gain. Laundry will no longer have to be done by another staff member, someone who is supposed to analyze videos or schedule coaching sessions, or even by the players themselves. All that saved time can now be put to good use. Everything can be just a little better.

And some of the changes have been significant, such as the nine new players who have joined Everton’s squad in the past few months. There is Toni Duggan, an experienced England international, German defender Leonie Maier, Italian midfielder Aurora Galli, and three signed players from Rosengard, the waiting champion from Sweden, nicknamed the Swedish House Mafia by their new teammates.

The biggest change, at least as far as club coach Willie Kirk is concerned, is the one that is most difficult to describe. This struck him, most clearly, while he was with his team at a preseason camp 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 watching another player walk through the doors and think: yes, that’s another quality signing. Maybe it’s knowing that no player can be sure to start the next game and that competition drives standards. “

Kirk may not be able to name it, not precisely, but he’s happy to talk about it. The first time Izzy Christiansen, the club’s very experienced midfielder, sat down with Kirk – in the winter of 2019 – his lingering impression was of a coach who had absolutely ‘no fluff’, he said. she declared. He hasn’t tried to explain to her why she should sign with Everton.

“There was no field,” Christiansen said. He just bought her a coffee – “It’s a way of persuading me to join a club,” she said – and explained how he viewed her as a player, what he thought she would bring. to the team, and what he and his club were trying to do. “It was a question of fact,” she said.

He’s exactly the same when it comes to his intentions for his team. “We don’t hesitate to be ambitious,” Kirk said.

It is telling that when asked if the plan for the season is to challenge England’s 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,” she said. “To compete and surpass each other. We want to bring the club back to the Champions League, where it belongs. “

Of course, the landscape of women’s football has undergone a drastic change, both domestically and in Europe, in the decade or so since Everton last graced the competition. In the early 2010s, Everton’s rivals for a place were Arsenal, Birmingham City, Liverpool. They were teams mostly populated by British players; few, if any, trained in the same facilities as their respective men’s teams.

The 2021 WSL is radically different: dominated by multilingual teams made up, at great expense, by 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 call on the backbone of the England national team – captain Steph Houghton, Lucy Bronze, Ellen White, half a dozen others – and have enough financial leverage to attempt to attempt. one of Everton’s best players, Australian wing Hayley Raso, in Manchester this summer. Arsenal, meanwhile, can boast of possibly owning the best player in the world: Dutch striker Vivianne Miedema. On Friday he picked up one of the American stars Tobin Heath.

These three teams have remained, almost unchallenged, at the top of the WSL for quite some time. They have combined to win the last five titles – Chelsea winning three – and have represented every English place in the Champions League since 2014. They are, as Kirk admitted, a formidable barrier.

And yet, the club thinks they can break this stranglehold. “I made it clear to the players that in order to do that we will have to strike above our weight in terms of the budget,” he said. “Finance comes into play, but we feel like we are there. “

He credits the “smart” recruiting of the club, led by its sporting director, Sarvar Ismailov – a nephew of Alisher Usmanov, the business partner of majority owner of Everton Farhad Moshiri, who has now been appointed to the club’s board of directors. – for a large part 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 that the like “. It was Ismailov who led the campaign to land perhaps the most eye-catching of Everton’s summer signing, 18-year-old Swedish midfielder Hanna Bennison, the club’s record signing.

But this is only one element. When she looks back on the club she joined almost two years ago, Christiansen now sees “something special”, something Kirk doesn’t just trace back to the group of new players.

“We have improved our work practices,” he said, a category that arguably includes the hiring of a uniform attendant. “We signed a lot of previous winners. We’ve always had a positive environment, but it breeds a winning culture. “

It’s a trend he sees throughout the club. Everton are working on the construction of 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. Ambition for the women’s team, in Kirk’s eyes, is no different from ambition for the men.

Perhaps, however, this relationship doesn’t quite work as it is often portrayed. Everton have been sentenced – for economic reasons more than for anything else – to life in the Premier League top midfield. It would cost the club hundreds of millions of dollars in transfer fees to even hope to reform men’s sides Manchester City and Chelsea.

In women’s football, however, he can now see himself as a force. He can talk about winning a place in the Champions League, and he can think, not without doing anything, to win a championship. He can envision meeting clubs that exist on a different stratum in men’s football as something equal in women’s football.

It didn’t come cheap – Bennison alone cost a “substantial six-figure sum” to coax Rosengard – and it wasn’t easy. But Everton, unlike many of their peers in the no man’s land below the Premier League’s elite, now have the payoff: a chance to compete, challenge and perhaps surpass. This momentum did not shift from the men’s team to the women’s team, but rather the other way around.

That’s what all of these changes, big and small, have brought about: a club that has a stage to be truly ambitious on once again, and a team that isn’t afraid to talk about it.



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