Leicester have had an active summer, getting themselves in shape on and off the pitch for their second season in the WSL. Safety was ultimately all that was required last year but the club’s vision will have shifted up the table and improving on 11th place.
Their priority was to sign the manager Lydia Bedford on a permanent two-year contract. The young manager impressed after replacing Jonathan Morgan in December, ending his seven-year managerial stint. The Foxes have also made moves behind the scenes, bringing in Willie Kirk as director of football, women and girls to help establish a successful culture throughout the club.
Several players have moved on and four have arrived, and Bedford has felt their impact already. “I feel like I’ve signed 10 players,” she said, “because those four players contributed to a massive shift in our culture.” Three of those signings – Josie Green, Aileen Whelan and Erin Simon – bring extensive experience to the midfield and defensive areas. A fully fit CJ Bott will also feel like a new signing. The New Zealand international arrived in March but injury limited her to a handful of appearances.
Leicester utilise the loan system well. The 19-year-old Carrie Jones has joined from Manchester United for the season and Bedford is hoping for a couple more loans.
The Foxes have engaged in a lengthy pre-season. Matches mixed with outdoor activities have helped the squad gain fitness and build all-important relationships. “I think probably the biggest thing for us was to be in a better place physically than we were last year,” says Bedford. “It’s been really focused around how competitive we can be within that … And then the main thing I spoke about was togetherness. For me, it doesn’t matter who you’ve got in your squad, if they play for themselves and not each other then you’ve not got a chance of success.”
An opener against Everton, a team in transition, will be an early chance to get points on the board before they return home for two fixtures at the King Power.
Bedford’s sole focus when she joined on an interim basis last season was to avoid relegation. Now a permanent fixture at the club, this season will allow her a more holistic approach and to instil a culture that will build for success. Bedford places an emphasis on the core values of her team, their ability to fight together and for each other. Her recruits point to stability and she is not afraid to trust the younger players.
Shannon O’Brien may fly under the radar at times but her performances in her first 18 months at Leicester have caught the eye. She arrived from Coventry United and played a key role in her side’s progression. An integral cog in the attack, she made 21 league appearances last season. The 20-year-old won the player of the season award after some stunning performances and signed a new deal this summer.
Big summer signing
Jones may not quite qualify for highest-profile signing (yet), but she is certainly Leicester’s most exciting. The young midfielder is highly rated by her parent club, Manchester United, and Wales. She made her international debut at 15, having caught coaches’ attention throughout the development pathway. Regular minutes are key to the next stage of her development and Leicester will provide her with the perfect exposure to top-level football.
Euro 2022 delight/heartache
Leicester did not have any players at Euro 2022. However, the vice-captain Ashleigh Plumptre played a key role for Nigeria at July’s Africa Cup of Nations. Traditionally a central defender, Plumptre predominantly played at left-back at the tournament. There was heartbreak in the semi-finals as they were defeated on penalties by the hosts Morocco. However, the future looks bright as the Super Falcons qualified for their ninth successive World Cup.
Bring on the crowds
Sparked by England’s success this summer, Leicester’s season-ticket sales doubled in August and there is hope that will continue to increase. Playing a significant number of their games at the King Power Stadium helps and certainly pulled in the crowds last season. Fan activation has also been under way with a series of football camps welcoming young fans to the Belvoir Drive training ground.