Casey Stoney: What next for Man Utd after manager's exit?

By Emma SandersBBC Sport
Casey Stoney
Casey Stoney led Manchester United to back-to-back fourth-place finishes in the Women's Super League

Casey Stoney was there from the start for Manchester United but now the club faces a future without her. So what will that look like?

Stoney's resignation was announced on 12 May, four days before the club's final game of the season against Leicester City in the FA Cup fifth round.

She said she wanted to "take some time away" but it is understood Stoney became frustrated with training facilities during the coronavirus pandemic and that played a part in her decision.

Her departure has left many questioning the future of the team - which was only formed in 2018 - and whether it could have been avoided.

Why did Stoney leave?

Casey Stoney
The team have moved between Leigh Sports Village and Carrington for training this season

When United announced they would set up the women's side three years ago, they were one of just two clubs among the world's top 10 richest teams not to have one.

Former England captain - and one of the most respected figures in women's football - Stoney was brought in.

The club provided the resources to build a squad capable of competing in the Women's Super League and they won promotion to the top flight in their first season.

Stoney led the team to back-to-back fourth-place finishes in the WSL but while there was development on the pitch, improvements off the field had not moved at the same pace.

The long-term plan was for the team to move to the Cliff training ground in Salford but refurbishment work needed to be done and it has still not been completed.

The women have been training at Leigh Sports Village but issues around the pitch and the pandemic meant they had to switch to Carrington midway through this season.

Stoney showed frustration in press conferences over the facilities after a number of United's key players picked up training ground injuries, including USA star Tobin Heath, summer signing Alessia Russo and winger Leah Galton.

There were inquests into the injuries with Stoney admitting the club were looking into why they were suffering so many in training.

United were top of the table at Christmas but four defeats in six games between February and April effectively ended their title hopes and they eventually finished outside of a European qualification spot.

Stoney herself described on-field results as a "personal failure" but was unable to answer questions over the futures of USA duo Heath and Christen Press, along with discussions around other contract extensions.

Her dissatisfaction grew during the spate of fan protests against club owners the Glazer family that led to the postponement of the Premier League game against Liverpool and the announcement of executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward's exit.

The fact Stoney had not been included in discussions on forming a breakaway European Super League - which would have involved the women's team - is also likely to have been a frustration.

Stoney was disappointed by Woodward's resignation - she said he provided her with support and took a keen interest in the women's set-up, having said in 2018 the women's side "must be built in the same image and with the same principles as the men's first team".

What is next for Manchester United?

Man Utd players celebrating with Casey Stoney
Jess Sigsworth led the players over to Casey Stoney to celebrate after opening the scoring for Manchester United against Leicester City

Stoney, 39, has been linked with a move to the United States and, though it is understood she has attracted interest, she does not have a job lined up.

So, could United have done more to keep her?

Stoney was emotional on departure at Sunday's defeat by newly-promoted Leicester City in the FA Cup. The players rushed over to celebrate with her on the touchline when they took the lead and she had fans waiting to greet her outside the stadium at full-time.

Now, with the women seemingly without a settled training ground and playing at LSV - away from the men's set-up - there is an anxiety among fans in regard to the club's interest in the side.

In a statement, Manchester United director John Murtough saidexternal-link the club "is completely committed to its women's team and to building on the legacy of Casey's achievements as we move forwards".

There remains a solid foundation. Stoney has built a strong squad - though with key players Lauren James, Tobin Heath and Christen Press expected to depart this summer and champions Chelsea and Manchester City continuing to invest, there is a danger United could stagnate.

The club has been encouraged by supporters to act quickly in replacing Stoney - who is believed to have already completed most of this summer's recruitment - and to show action in developing off-field facilities.

This pre-season could well prove to be the biggest test of United's ambitions to create a women's team capable of challenging Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal in the WSL.

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