Matt Beard has been appointed new Liverpool boss, six years after he brought the curtain down on his first spell at the helm.
His appointment comes four months after Vicky Jepson was relieved of her duties in January, with her assistant Amber Whiteley installed as interim manager until the end of the season as the Liverpool board weighed up its options.
Whiteley oversaw an eight-game unbeaten run during her short tenure as the Reds finished the season in third place, a distant 11 points behind eventual champions Leicester City.
The FA Women’s Championship manager of the month for March will remain at the club as Beard’s assistant for the upcoming season.
Beard was chosen as the ideal person out of the 160 candidates who applied for the job to lead the club into their second season in the Championship, and his face in the dugout brings back fond memories for many Reds fans.
The 43-year-old first joined the club in 2012 from Chelsea, and led Liverpool to the pinnacle of the English game. He immediately set about transforming the squad, releasing 10 first team players and bringing in a number of marquee signings, including the signing of English trio Natasha Dowie, Fara Williams and Lucy Bronze from Merseyside rivals Everton.
All three would be the pillars of a title-winning side, as the Reds clinched their first WSL crown by defeating Bristol City on the final day of the season, ending Arsenal’s nine-year stranglehold on the league trophy.
The Reds miraculously retained their title the following season under Beard on goal difference, denying Chelsea their maiden WSL crown, despite sitting third ahead of the final round of fixtures. Bronze was crowned the league’s player of the year that season, but departed shortly after to link up with Manchester City to start Liverpool’s slow demise, which has involved a mass exodus of players.
Beard also led Liverpool into their first two Champions League campaigns, before they finished seventh in his final year in charge, after an injury ravaged season decimated his squad. His departure to join Boston Breakers in the USA was confirmed ahead of the conclusion of the 2015 season, and Liverpool have struggled to hit the heights of his reign in the five years which have followed.
Beard returns to Prenton Park with a wealth more of experience under his belt, particularly with transforming the fates of struggling clubs. After his brief spell Stateside, he returned to the WSL as head coach of West Ham in their first season as a professional club, guiding the Irons to their first FA Cup final, where they lost 3-0 to Manchester City in 2018.
He left the East London outfit by mutual consent last year before taking temporary charge of Bristol City in January until the end of the season after Tanya Oxtoby went on maternity leave. The Robins had only amassed two points from ten games prior to his arrival, but picked up ten points from their remaining twelves games, with Beard also taking them to the Continental Cup final.
Despite their up turn in form they suffered relegation on the last day of the season, with Beard’s departure from the club confirmed just a matter of hours before he had been announced as Reds’ boss.
Beard is now tasked with assembling a squad capable of launching a sustained promotion push at Liverpool, one which will be stronger than that of his former employers who will be one of the favourites to bounce back at the first attempt to the WSL.
This was something Liverpool failed to achieve this season, with their promotion hopes dashed after defeat to Leicester just a few weeks into the new year.Embed from Getty Images
Beard will have to lead the Reds without Rinsola Babajide, who looks set to depart the club this summer, having not featured since January after the club blocked her exit. According to reports her suitors include WSL trio Brighton (who tried and failed to sign the forward in the winter window), Tottenham and Manchester United as well as Spanish giants Real Madrid.
The Reds are seemingly resigned to loosing their talented English youth international, but will demand a hefty fee given that Babajide had signed a new deal last summer. Winger Melissa Lawley is also rumoured to be attracting interest from sides in the top flight, and it remains to be seen whether the Reds could convince the former Manchester City winger to spend another year in the second division.
The money generated from the prospective sale of Babajide and the potential departure of Lawley should begiven to Beard to help him bring in the correct personnel to help the Reds get out of this division. The fact they had just two players on the bench at the end of the season shows that investment in squad depth beyond the starting eleven is desperately needed.
There is undeniable quality in Liverpool’s squad, but ensuring everyone stays fit is another issue. Jess Clarke and Jade Bailey spent large portions of the campaign on the treatment table, and getting the two of them fit and firing for the new season will be a priority for the Reds. Rachel Furness, who was the Reds’ taliswoman at the start of the campaign is currently recovering from a broken leg sustained on international duty, and her return for pre season will be a huge boost for Beard.
He will also be able to call upon some fine young talents, such as Missy Bo Kearns, who was crowned Liverpool supporters’ player of the season, January signing Ceri Holland who has enjoyed a stellar start to her career on Merseyside and Lucy Parry, whose appearance against Coventry in October made her the Reds’ youngest ever player at 16 and 150 days.
Rylee Foster and Rhiannon Roberts recently penned new long term deals, and they were crucial components alongside centre back pairing Meikayla Moore and captain Niamh Fahey in helping the Reds concede just 15 goals all season, the joint lowest in the Championship.
Beard’s appointment has been greeted with great excitement by Liverpool fans, whose expected return to Prenton Park in September should also give the players a boost in their quest for promotion.
He is an experienced boss known for transforming the fortunes of misfiring sides as well great man management, especially in working with young players to help them take their game to the next level.
He still has a strong rapport with the supporters, something which will only be enhanced by his comments at his unveiling when he said: “When you’re here and then you’re away from the football club you realise how special and unique it is.”
There is a huge amount of pressure on Beard, and he pulled no punches when asked what the aims for this year are.
“I’ve come here to get the team promoted. It’s not going to be easy and it’s probably going to be the toughest Championship season ever,” he said. “But we have a good core group here and the infrastructure is there.”
Take the Reds back up to the WSL this year and Beard will further cement his status as a legendary manager at Liverpool Women.
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