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Manchester United in spotlight again over women's treatment

June 28, 2024

Manchester United's women will be moved into temporary facilities in order to accommodate the men's team during training center renovations. The club is once again facing criticism — and another summer exodus.

Manchester United players spray team captain Katie Zelem lifting the trophy after winning the Women's FA Cup final
Manchester United won the Women's FA Cup last season, but the club is facing renewed criticism over its treatment of the teamImage: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP/picture alliance

Manchester United are once again in the spotlight over their treatment of their women's team after reports emerged that the women's set-up is to be temporarily moved into portable facilities in order to accommodate the men's team while facilities at the club's training ground are renovated.

The news, first reported earlier this week by British daily The Guardian, came a week after the club's new minority owner, British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe, admitted to Bloomberg that his focus so far had been solely on the men's team, and coincided with an exodus of key players for the second summer in a row.

On Thursday, it was reported that the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), the trade union that represents professional footballers in England and Wales, had been made aware of concerns about United's management of its women's team for the second time after discontent was first voiced in 2021.

Then, players were reported to be frustrated at the time it was taking to appoint a successor to former head coach Casey Stoney, who was also reported to have been dissatisfied with the budget and facilities available to her.

Now, according to The Athletic, the PFA is again prepared to seek conversations with United regarding the environment provided for the women's team which in May won the FA Cup, the first senior women's honor in the club's history.

United's women to be re-housed during 'temporary adaptations'

Work began last week on a £50m ($63.2m) revamp of United's men's training facilities at the club's Carrington training center in southwest Manchester, led by the renowned Mancunian architect Norman Foster who also designed the glass dome on the roof of the Reichstag building in Berlin.

The work, which is set to last throughout the upcoming 2024/25 season, follows the competition of a new, state-of-the-art £10m women's and youth academy facility last summer — to which United's men's team are now set to have priority access while the women's set-up is temporarily housed in portable buildings.

"Tem­porary adaptations will be made to the rest of the Carrington site to ensure players and staff from all our teams can continue to operate successfully next season," United said in a statement announcing the renovations.

United are understood to have considered a range of options regarding where to house the women's team, including temporarily leaving Carrington.

But the club ultimately concluded that continuing to train on the same pitches and with access to the same nutritional facilities would be preferable, even with changing rooms, meeting rooms, office spaces and communal areas moved into portable buildings.

INEOS Owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe
Getting the chemistry right: is United's women's team a priority for new minority owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe?Image: Martin Rickett/PA/IMAGO

Is United's women's team a priority?

Nevertheless, The Guardian quoted a source close to the women's team which said the decision "added to a growing sense that the women's team are not perceived as a priority within the club."

Indeed, the news comes just a week after new minority owner Ratcliffe told Bloomberg: "We haven't gone into that level of detail with the women's football team yet."

Ratcliffe, the British billionaire boss of chemical giants INEOS, which purchased a 27.7% stake in Manchester United earlier this year, including overall sporting control, also upset some supporters by referring to the men's team as "the first team."

Following his arrival in February, Ratcliffe had told local journalists in a Q&A session: "If it's a team wearing a Manchester United badge on their shirt then it's Manchester United and they need to be focused on winning and being successful."

United's women, under head coach Mark Skinner, achieved that in May by winning the club's first major women's title, beating Tottenham Hotspur 4-0 to win the FA Cup.

However, the team also finished fifth in the Women's Super League (WSL), its worst league performance since promotion to the top tier of women's football in England in 2019, prompting a second consecutive summer exodus.

This week, it was announced that captain Katie Zelem and goalkeeper Mary Earps would both be leaving United on free transfers, with the latter expected to join Paris Saint-Germain. English forward Nikita Parris and Spanish striker Lucia Garcia are also leaving the club.

Those four moves follow the high-profile departures last summer of England attacker Alessia Russo to Arsenal and Spanish defender Ona Battle to Barcelona.

Edited by: Kieran Burke