A new era begins this afternoon at Liverpool Women, but it’s a familiar face in the dugout.
Two-time title-winning manager Matt Beard is back for a second stint in charge and tasked with getting the club back into the Women’s Super League. No pressure.
Of the traditional ‘Big Six’ in the Premier League, Liverpool are the only club not to have a women’s team in the top division. Their absence will be more of a problem for supporters as this season is the biggest in the history of the game.
Liverpool Women kick off their season this afternoon with Matt Beard back in charge of the club
The Reds are looking for promotion back to the WSL after relegation in 2020
A record deal with Sky Sports and the BBC means the WSL will have a larger audience than ever before. That’s why the club, and Beard, know it’s crucial that they win promotion from the championship. But with the second tier of its most competitive campaign to date, the club and their manager know it won’t be easy.
“You can’t afford to lose more than one or two games a season,” Beard . said Sports post.
“There are only 12 teams in the league, it’s not like the Premier League where you play 38 games a season.
“There isn’t much room for error and it ended up costing Liverpool last year, dropping two points in so many games where they were likely to win. I know first-hand it’s going to be difficult.’
After being relegated via points per game following the 2019-2020 season curtailment, the Reds were expected to head straight back to the WSL.
Beard was convinced to return to the club after talks with Executive Director Susan Black
But they could only finish third, behind Durham and champion Leicester – who went full-time at the start of the season.
The club has been criticized for the way they have fallen from back-to-back WSL champions to second-rate competitors.
Beard was the mastermind behind those two title wins in 2013 and 2014 before leaving to join the American Boston Breakers. A host of key players followed him out the door, while Chelsea and Manchester City invested in strengthening their rosters.
The addition of Manchester United to the championship presented another threat, with Alex Greenwood and Martha Harris both having to drop a division to join the club’s rivals. Between 2014 and 2018, Liverpool saw Lucy Bronze, Natasha Dowie, Fara Williams, Caroline Weir, Gemma Bonner and Sophie Ingle all leave to join new clubs. A major team change is not uncommon in the women’s game, but the players Liverpool lost were hugely talented and have all won trophies elsewhere.
Everton suffered a similar fate when they lost players like Jill Scott, Toni Duggan and Nikita Parris, all of whom joined City. The Toffees were relegated in 2014 after 21 years of top football. They also didn’t come back right away and were only promoted through an application to rejoin the league after Notts County folded.
But since the appointment of Willie Kirk in December 2018, the club has rebuilt and invested again. They now train full time at Finch Farm and have just signed the talented youngster Hanna Bennison for a club record amount.
Liverpool will have to fight their way back to the WSL, but their city rivals are proof that significant progress can be made in a short space of time.
Beard left West Ham in November last year and temporarily took charge of Bristol City for the second half of the WSL season, while Tanya Oxtoby was on maternity leave.
But the 43-year-old insisted he didn’t need to be convinced when the opportunity to return to Merseyside presented itself.
“I had fantastic conversations with Susan Black about the direction we are going and the project, it was something I really wanted to be a part of.
The Reds kick off their Championship season with a home game against London City Lionesses
“I want this to be for the long term. I want to be the one to get us promoted again. It is a club that is close to my heart. It will be even more difficult this year with the investment of some other clubs, it will be a difficult season, but I didn’t feel like coming back.”
The weight of the badge puts pressure on Beard’s squad, but that’s something he’s more than used to managing.
“It puts pressure on us right away, but I was under pressure when we won the league in 2013, when we played in 2014, everyone wanted to beat the champions.
‘I’ve experienced that here before and at least the girls know that. They have told me openly that they took it a bit for granted at the beginning of last year. When you’re chasing points, it’s hard, especially when Leicester kept taking points.
“Everyone has done their best for Liverpool, so it puts a bit of pressure on them. I think we can handle that well now.
“The most important thing when we won the league in 2013 and especially in 2014, whether you’re top, second, third or wherever you are, you’re not out of touch. Whatever happens, you have to be in touch with everyone.’
And there is a sense that things are moving in the right direction.
Susan Black, Liverpool Communications Director and Liverpool Women’s Executive Director, outlined the club’s ambition and their intention to appoint a Director, who will designate a new training ground for the club.
“We have a very clear vision at Liverpool Women, which is to re-establish ourselves as crucial players in the WSL, to be competitive in all tournaments and to compete for trophies,” Black said. Sports post.
“To do that from where we are now in the championship will take a lot of work and we will go step by step.
“So one of the most important first steps was to bring in Matt Beard as a very experienced manager who can help us on that journey. In addition to Matt, it was important that Amber Whiteley stayed on as his assistant manager after her very impressive leadership of the team as interim manager last season.
“We have moved to strengthen the backroom team with the appointment of Paul McHugh as assistant manager.
“On the pitch, our summer recruitment has brought in eight new players, including two loans, the vast majority with WSL experience.
Black told Sportsmail the club wants to re-establish itself as a key player in the WSL
Beard has signed eight new players this summer, but knows it will take time for his team to develop
“On the medical side, we have continued to support and strengthen with a new Sports Therapist position in Chris Underwood and have Dr. Amelia Woodhouse as our medical professional.”
Another important step is the appointment of our first Managing Director for LFC Women. We are looking for an experienced women’s game leadership figure who will lead the strategic direction and execution of our entire women’s and girls’ plan.
“Our new CEO will also lead the search for our new training ground and build on the work underway in this area.
“A small number of sites have been identified and are currently under evaluation and we will make further announcements in due course.”
Beard made eight signings this summer and kept key players including Northern Ireland international Rachel Furness. But he knows it will take time for his team to learn.
“We are nowhere near the finished article and I told the players that it will probably take until the end of September before everything is really in place.
“What we have to do is make it a habit to win football matches.”
That task starts this afternoon at home against London City Lionesses. There is an expectation on the shoulders of Beard and his players, but there is a feel-good factor surrounding the club ahead of a hugely important season. It is now up to them to deliver.