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Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s latest comments paint a grim picture for Man Utd’s future

While Sir Jim Ratcliffe admitted that he and the club are yet to set out a detailed plan for the future of Manchester United’s women, he indirectly revealed a clear look at the new direction of ownership.

After the 71-year-old billionaire bought a small stake in the Red Devils earlier this year, there was a renewed sense of hope after years of neglect for the Glazers. Finally there was reason to be excited about the future and what could be achieved – however that hope has yet to come from the women’s side.

Ratcliffe’s lack of interest in Marc Skinner’s side was evident in May when they made history by winning the FA Cup, their first major piece of silverware in the women’s game, beating Tottenham Hotspur in the final at Wembley. While Spurs had club chairman Daniel Levy watching in the stands, United’s new owner instead chose to be at Old Trafford for the Premier League game against Arsenal. A simple good luck message had to be done.

So, it’s hard to blame United fans for being even more outraged by the latest comments from the CEO of INEOS when asked about the plans and development of the women’s team.

“We haven’t gotten into that level of detail with the women’s soccer team yet,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg released last week. “We were very focused on solving the problems of the first team and that was full time for the first six months.”

The narrator continued to ask: “So for confirmation?”

“Okay,” he replied.

Katie Zelem

Man Utd’s women’s team won this year’s FA Cup / Visionhaus/GettyImages

Ratcliffe’s comments, which revealed that the focus has been on the men’s side following his arrival earlier this year, reflect a sense of relief that leaves the club walking a fine line in terms of its status as a major force in the WSL. They should ask their rivals Liverpool what years of neglect and lack of vision or direction can lead to.

Skinner and co are on the brink of a critical period. A number of senior players, including goalkeeper and England international Mary Earps, are out of contract this summer and so far there has been little movement on a new contract.

Earps spoke with relief after the curtains came down on a mixed season for the Red Devils. FA Cup glory aside, their league form was far from consistent and they dropped out of the top four, with Liverpool claiming their place in the latter stages of the campaign.

“The honest truth is that negotiations are still ongoing,” said the Englishman in an interview with Sky Sports last month. “I was clear that I didn’t want to make an emotional decision.

“The beginning of the season was really difficult, I was sad about the things that were said about me and the things that turned out to be untrue. I tried to be a high-quality worker, I kept my head down, I worked hard. [and] continue my work, and that was difficult. I have been a punching bag at times.

“I tried to carry the responsibility of the team and to do well where we have been this season. That’s what you have to do as a leader, and as an experienced player you have to stand up in those moments.

“I know I’ve given my heart and soul all season. It’s a difficult situation. I’ve asked the club for confirmation about what they’re trying to achieve, and when I have those answers, I’ll be able to make a decision.

Mary EarpsMary Earps

Ears can leave Man Utd / Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/GettyImages

It seems that those answers are not yet forthcoming. If anything, Ratcliffe’s comments suggest the Earps may have to wait a while to get clarity on the club’s long-term vision and strategy under new owners. The speed of football means that time is not on their side and it remains to be seen what effect it will have on the future of the players who are there now, but also in the future and their talent.

The success of Manchester United Women should not, and cannot, be an afterthought. The club’s recent FA Cup triumph is at risk of being overshadowed by a lack of funding and strategic planning.

Polly Bancroft, United’s former head of women’s football, has left at the end of the 2023/24 season after less than two years in charge. He has been replaced by Matt Johnson, albeit only temporarily, while the club works to appoint a long-term replacement.

The landscape of the WSL is changing rapidly as clubs increase investment in their women’s teams. Liverpool and Tottenham are among the restless clubs and are now on a positive, upward trajectory. United must ensure that they do not fall behind their rivals.

United’s women’s team is not the best and should not be treated as such. The owner of the club must stay away from the little things that make it a mere thought; they are the first group themselves.

Ratcliffe’s legacy at United will depend not only on the success of the senior players, but also the women’s team. Anything less than a clear vision and strategy for the future can seriously affect the players, fans and the spirit of the club as a whole.


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