Leicester City Women ready for baptism of fire in WSL

Jonathan Morgan is proud to occupy the office in which Claudio Ranieri plotted Leicester City’s path to the Premier League title and, more recently, Brendan Rodgers navigated a route to FA Cup final glory.

The manager of Leicester City Women could not be more delighted to have moved into the Belvoir Drive training ground which housed the club’s men side from 1964 until their recent relocation to a new, ultra-luxurious countryside base.

Not that Belvoir Drive is remotely shabby. While, 12 miles away, Rodgers’s side limber up for next Saturday’s Community Shield against Manchester City at Wembley, Morgan’s six new signings seem thrilled by their habitat.

“The facilities here are unreal,” says the former England defender Abbie McManus, recently recruited from Manchester United as Leicester’s manager reinforces his squad before their first season in the Women’s Super League. “It’s exciting to be part of something that’s just for the women; to have all this for the sole use of a women’s team is something I’ve not seen before.”

Considering McManus began her career amid the well-resourced surrounds of Manchester City, where the stellar infrastructure is shared with the men’s teams, her opinion not only carries weight but explains why some fairly high-profile players were so keen to join a promoted side.

Jess Sigsworth ranks foremost among them. While acknowledging that this season’s WSL is likely to be more competitive than ever, the former Manchester United striker is convinced Leicester are going places. “This is a club with massive ambition,” says Sigsworth. “It’s everything I want to be a part of.”

Not that she expects Leicester’s maiden campaign to be plain sailing. “It’s quite a big jump from the Championship to the WSL and I think we’ve got to be realistic about our goals this season,” she cautions. “But I feel I can bring a little bit of experience and clinical edge to the team and, hopefully, score some goals.”

Leicester’s first WSL fixture, on the opening weekend of September, is at an Aston Villa side under the new management of the much admired former Birmingham coach Carla Ward. Significantly, Ward quit Birmingham amid mounting concerns about an infrastructure perceived as inadequate by many of her former players.

Although working conditions were somewhat better for Manchester United’s squad last season, their former manager Casey Stoney believed there remained room for appreciable improvement and such dissatisfaction partly precipitated the former England captain’s recent relocation to a job in San Diego.

Although pristine training facilities cannot win matches on their own, Leicester hope Belvoir Drive will enable Morgan’s squad to be as well prepared as possible for a baptism of fire. Their opening six fixtures include meetings with the defending champions, Chelsea, last season’s runners-up, Manchester City, and a Manchester United now under the highly regarded Marc Skinner’s charge.

Morgan has been at Leicester since 2014, presiding over their switch to professionalism a year ago and seeing off a strong challenge from ambitious Durham before winning last season’s Championship title, but this will be his first encounter with Emma Hayes’s Chelsea. “To come up against some of the best players and best coaches in the world is massively exciting,” he says.

“How we’ll do in competitive fixtures against these teams is an unknown. But I’m not going to put them on a pedestal. We know they’re good but we’re good too. If we play the football we’ve been working on in pre-season we’ll also be very, very difficult to beat.”

In different ways his signings to date – McManus, Sigsworth, Jemma Purfield, Georgia Brougham, Abbi Grant and Molly Pike – have points to prove.

McManus, after being showered with praise for her versatile defensive performances by England’s former manager Phil Neville, has latterly lost her way a little, not only forfeiting that international place but spending part of last season on loan at Tottenham. At only 28, though, she has time to recapture the form that so impressed Neville.

Pike, a graduate of Chelsea’s youth system, is keen to establish herself in midfield at the age of 20 after leaving Everton in the wake of spending the latter half of last season on loan at Bristol City, who were relegated.

Her former Bristol City teammate Jemma Purfield, a 24-year-old left-back whose attacking style suits Morgan’s front-foot philosophy, also hopes to establish roots in the east Midlands. “Leicester’s facilities are second to none,” says Purfield. “There’s not many better in the women’s game. Everything you need to improve is here. We’ve got all the tools to keep progressing.”

Sometimes, though, progress involves casualties and Leicester’s 28-year-old captain, Holly Morgan, announced her retirement from playing on Friday after deciding she no long met the required standards.

Yet, as everyone associated with the club keeps reiterating, Leicester really are a family concern and Holly will assist her elder brother Jonathan in a new role as first-team coach. With their sister, Jade, serving as general manager and father, Rohan, as chairman, the WSL has its first dynasty.