The departure of England’s Phil Neville to David Beckham’s Inter-Miami and the mutual termination of Wales boss Jayne Ludlow has left all four of the home nations manager-less. This lack of direction at the top of women’s football is surprising, considering the interest generated by the 2019 world cup. Women’s football is replete with stars, in-depth access to coaches, and has an authenticity not present in the corporate world of the men’s game. Sadly, it lacks the same interest and coverage.
The best reason to develop an interest in women’s football is simply that it is more accessible. Games, when televised, are often shown on terrestrial television and when fans can return to stadiums tickets are far cheaper. Instead of shelling out for a subscription to BT, Sky, and Amazon prime, the twenty or so games each team plays tend to be available free of charge on the BBC. Tickets to live games are also significantly cheaper – for instance Arsenal, the club with the most expensive tickets, routinely charges over £50 for a seat at the Emirates, but demands only £7 to go and see its women’s side who have been vastly more successful in recent years.
Beyond this, anyone with a deep interest in football will find it more rewarding to follow the Women’s Super League (the women’s top division) than the premier league. Journalists have far better access to coaches and players who are less media-trained and secretive. Thus, instead of the turgid post-match interviews, you get vivacious encounters where managers reveal much more about their tactical approach to the game. Arsenal boss Joe Montemurro recently gave in-depth details of an investigation into Arsenal’s muscular injury problems and the resulting changes made by the club, something Arsene Wenger never did through the seemingly constant injury crises at the club in the 2010s. The Chelsea head coach Emma Hayes is also frequently fascinating when facing the media.
The women’s game is replete with outstanding players who make matches enchanting to watch: from the technical prowess of Vivianne Miedema to the raw goal-scoring ability of Sam Kerr, there are plenty of breath-taking moments.
The distribution of talent in professional football is skewed, most players have a similar level of ability but there are a handful of supreme talents who are better by some distance than the average player. Women’s clubs are less professional and do not have the resources to focus on marginal gains and physical conditioning. This means that raw technical ability and pure talent shines through more, the top players are worlds apart and this makes for incredible viewing. Deft chips, scintillating dribbles, and long range worldies are more commonplace as a result.
Players like Megan Rapinoe have become astronomically famous in the US Women’s National Team using their platform to promote improvements in social justice. This is particularly significant when the team dramatically outperforms the men but are paid orders of magnitude less.
Beyond this, the immense fame of Alex Morgan, fresh from her recent spell at Spurs, shows that women’s football has real star power and potential to improve in that respect. This signing paralleled that of Gareth Bale in terms of raising the club’s profile, surely demonstrating that there is real potential for commercial success in the sport. Players like Megan Rapinoe have become astronomically famous in the US Women’s National Team using their platform to promote improvements in social justice. This is particularly significant when the team dramatically outperforms the men but are paid orders of magnitude less.
Unfortunately, there is clearly a discrepancy in investment between the men’s and women’s teams at clubs. Nothing speaks to this more than the fact that Liverpool Women were relegated in 2019/20 the same season the men’s side won the Premier League for the first time in 30 years.
Paris Saint Germain have recently been actively agitating for a European Super League that would remove all of the top European clubs from their domestic competitions to compete against each other. This would strip Europe’s top leagues of their allure and represent a huge step towards a US-franchise style of competition, stripping something essential from the soul of football. What is more, this seems an increasingly inevitable development. In this context, competitions like the North American Women’s Soccer League (or WSL) have an authenticity that is enthralling. For anyone who feels jaded by VAR or the dominance of a cadre of elite clubs, women’s football presents a compelling adjunct or even alternative.
While it initially takes a while to get used to the players and the relative positions of the teams, it is certainly worth investing some time into women’s football. It may well prove a welcome and necessary distraction in the coming months.
Image credit: Matthew Kurnia