Women’s Super League 2021-22 previews No 7: Leicester

In women’s football you’ll often find there are men’s clubs that talk the talk a lot more than they walk the walk. Leicester City, however, do the latter. The women’s side were taken fully under the wing of the club and turned fully professional in the process in August 2020.

Last season they romped to a first Championship title and promotion in their first year as a full-time outfit, winning 16 of their 20 games and scoring 54 goals in the process — 20 more than second-place Durham.

The changes do not look superficial or token. Instead, the club seem genuinely invested in the success of their women’s team. The men’s team manager, Brendan Rodgers, has had a chat with the team as they prepare for a first season in the top flight and the manager, Jonathan Morgan, operates from title-winning manager Claudio Ranieri’s office after the women’s team was handed the keys to the club’s Belvoir Drive training ground with the men’s team moving to its new Seagrave base. Club legend Emile Heskey was also brought in as an ambassador for the team before last season.

Morgan has been allowed to inject WSL experience into his squad for their maiden campaign in the top tier. The forward Jess Sigsworth and the defender Abbie McManus have been snapped up from Manchester United. England’s McManus grew up as a United fan and joined the club in 2019 after a total of 12 years at Manchester City (in two spells) but spent the second half of last season on loan at Tottenham. Jemma Purfield has joined from Bristol City and Georgia Brougham from Everton to add to the defence. The Scottish forward Abbi Grant has arrived from Birmingham, as has midfielder Connie Scofield. The midfielder Molly Pike, who rose through the ranks at Chelsea before joining Everton, has also moved to Leicester.

There has been no room for sentimentality too with club captain Holly Morgan, Jonathan’s sister, retiring as a player to step into a first-team coaching role after achieving her Uefa A licence as they bid to make an impact at the top. Holly Morgan kick-started her family’s long association with the club when she trialled for the team as an 11-year-old. Their other sister, Jade Morgan, is the team’s general manager and their father, Rohan Morgan, was formally chairman.

The club will also be the first Premier League outfit to host their women’s team in its main stadium for a majority of games, with eight out of 11 home fixtures set for the King Power and the remaining three to be played at the Pirelli Stadium in Burton when there is a fixture clash with the men’s team – putting another nail in the coffin of the idea that actions like these are not logistically possible or the pitch cannot withstand the extra usage.

None of these things guarantee success but they go a long way to making Leicester look like a team that is not ready to accept being the new cannon fodder of the WSL. There is a marked jump in the level required between the WSL and Championship but Leicester have shown it can go toe to toe with top flight opposition in the cups in recent years with wins against Reading, Birmingham and Manchester United and a narrow 2-1 defeat by Manchester City.

Up first is Aston Villa and they will hope to make a statement against the team that was battling to stay up last term. With Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United in their opening six league games and a women’s FA Cup quarter-final against City to navigate in between they will need points on the board to keep heads up.

The manager
Jonathan Morgan led Leicester to promotion last season after a lot of hard work having taken over in the 2014-15 season. He has been key in turning the club professional and capitalised on the players being full-time with a slick season as the team only lost two matches in 2020-21.

Key players
Natasha Flint Was key to Leicester’s WSL promotion with an impressive 17 Championship goals and the playmaker that kept their top flight dream alive. Now they are in the WSL you can expect similar results with the ex-Manchester City player’s skills being a defensive headache for teams.

Jess Sigsworth Brings with her an energy for the game, leaving everything on the pitch and will be sure to challenge Flint for the top scorer at the club. She scored 26 goals in 66 appearances for Manchester United and says she moved to Leicester because of the ambition the club has.

Abbie McManus: The defender has a WSL title, three WSL Cups and two FA Cups so has all the experience to help Leicester. Her voice will be critical in the dressing room and she will be a good leader for those players taking their first steps in the WSL.