From lofty heights, producing staples in the England squad, Everton had slipped down WSL 1 and into WSL 2 (now the Championship), their return to the top had been marred with struggles and disappointing performances. When Willie Kirk left his role at Manchester United to take over in Southport he had a job on his hands, WomensFootball talked to the Scot about his first months with Everton as well as how he’s using each transfer window wisely.
A young team that had stagnated under Andy Spence, the Blue Girls were bereft of ideas and far too predictable on the pitch, the change of management proved to be the shot in the arm the team needed. Upon his arrival, Kirk happily saw an increase in intensity as he explains,
“I think quite quickly we saw an increase in intensity in training, training became more competitive and more intense and I think the sport scientist we work with backed that up in terms of, we were hitting similar figures physically but in a lot less time. So I was pleased to hear that and then it was about trying to get survival which we did, and then it was about trying to improve the squad.”
Having brought in a plethora of new players that has only seen the pre-existing crop improve, the Scot knew the squad wasn’t going to develop over night but it would take the best part of two seasons.
“I always think you need at least three transfer windows to get the squad that you want and I think you can see that squad has dramatically changed since I came in. The first window, the January one we couldn’t do much but summer we did really good business and I think this one we did really good business too, so give me one more and I can definitely call it my squad.”
One of the more surprising additions to the squad over the summer was well experienced Finland captain, Tinja-Riikka Korpela, to bring her and other internationals in, Kirk knew he had to be savvy and exploit the weapons he had.
“Without a doubt, the summer window, there was two forms of attack. There was, lets abuse the fact that we play in the English league: people want to come and play in the English league, they do not want to play for the team who were second from bottom but they want to come and play in the English league so we turned that to our advantage. We bought in Tinja, Maéva [Clemaron] and Kika [van Es] then we used what we’re… maybe not what we’re ‘known for’ but what people respect us for which is developing young players so we brought in Molly Pike and Esme Morgan so I think that was the first sort of big moment for us in the window.”
The strength he’s added to the team ensuring the Blue Girls could be a little more adventurous over the winter and bring in even more experience and established quality to help the team.
“And because of the start to the season that allows us to bring in an Izzy Christiansen and another senior international [Hayley Raso] so that is a progressive thing, so we had to be clever in the summer but now that we’ve managed to get a foothold we’ve got ourselves into a position in the league that we can now use on our new reputation.”
As to the fast start to the season that seemed to take everyone by surprise?
“I think everybody was surprised – we weren’t surprised – we set ourselves a target for the top half which is ambitious if you look at the resources that we’ve got… and to be fair to the club, those resources are improving all the time and there is ambitious plans to continue to improve that support. But in terms of our ambition, we said top half and we’re now going to get greedy: we were fifth at Christmas so that top half will now change to top five. We were in fifth and we want to stay fifth as long as possible.”
For as well as Everton have so far done this season, considering just how substandard they have been in recent times, it’s been the games against the teams at the top that have seen the team unsurprisingly struggle. Yet for Kirk and his squad, there’s no intimidation in the games against the title chasers, but moments that require more work.
“It’s not so much targeting certain games and that’s why… the games we’ve played against the top four have been really frustrating because we think we can match them on a game by game basis. The United game we went a goal up but then we didn’t manage the next minute very well. So we don’t target individual games as such, we think we can match anyone on our day and I think we’ve got a bit of a free ride this season as there were such low expectations with ourselves, I think we’re just trying to enjoy collecting as many three points as possible.”
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