The optimism surrounding Liverpool FC Women with their strong end to the season, and the appointment of Matt Beard as manager ahead of the next campaign, feels a little short-lived.
The return of the manager after his previous successful stint at the club was meant to be the first step of a huge rebuilding process, which would eventually culminate in the Reds winning promotion back to the WSL this time next year.
Instead, all the excitement for the upcoming campaign has been overshadowed by events in the past few days which have left a sour taste in the mouths of many Reds fans, and the players involved seething.
Kirsty Linnett, Becky Jane, Amy Rodgers, and Amalie Threstrup have all take to social media this week to announce that they will be leaving the club when their contract expires at the end of June.
Whilst in the women’s game contracts tend to be relatively short (1-2 years at most) and there is an expectancy of a high turnover of players year upon year, (especially with the Reds poised to launch a sustained promotion charge under a new boss) it is the manner in which these departures have been handled which has caused such outrage.
Linnett, who will bring the curtain down on a three-year stint at the club, was the first to release a damning statement last Friday which read: “It would have been nice if someone from the club had the decency to tell me that they were retracting the contract offer they’d previously sent my agent.
“I feel that after three years at the club the least I deserved was a face-to-face meeting the moment they knew they wanted to let me go. Instead of calling my agent, telling him and then asking him to decide whether to tell me or the club call me.”
Similarly Jane, who has thrived since a positional switch to the right wing under Amber Whiteley, and Rodgers, who has been at the club for five years, were critical of the handling of their contract negotiations.
Jane tweeted: “Unfortunately, similar to Kirsty the club have retracted my contract offer in a similar way. As female footballers with zero security as it is; the least we deserve is to be treated better and with respect. It takes nothing to be kind.”
Rodgers followed that up by stating: “After being in a situation similar to two of my teammates who both have my full love and support, I will also be leaving the club this summer. Contract restrictions are undoubtedly a part of football, however these should be done with integrity.”
Supporters, although baffled by the decision not to renew Linnett, Jane and Rodgers’ contracts given they have been virtual ever-presents for the Reds throughout this challenging season, would have accepted the outcome if it had been an amicable parting of ways.Embed from Getty Images
That is the same for the trio, who would have accepted the decision to move them on, had it been conducted in an adequate manner.
Yet from what these players have shared, it feels the club’s duty of care for their well-being has been disregarded. Putting the pieces together and it smacks of a lack of professionalism and courtesy from Liverpool – an all too familiar story for fans of the women’s side. It seems those on the board lacked the common decency to inform players that their services were no longer required.
The statement from a Liverpool spokesperson read: “The club has been informing all affected players of decisions as early as possible.”
But that is at odds with what the experiences expressed by the players involved.
Firstly, it should be pointed out that the club originally offered contract extensions, before later retracting them. If this is a cost cutting measure as a result of the Reds failing to win promotion at the first time of asking, then FSG must come under further scrutiny for repeatedly underfunding the women’s side.
Whilst the board feel obliged to lavish long contract extensions for the men’s team’s most prized assets, the women’s team hasn’t been afforded such a luxury.
In no uncertain terms, the offer of a new contract would have provided these players with clarity and job security, but would also have been seen as a just reward for helping the team in their strong end to the season ahead of launching a sustained promotion tilt next time out.
All that was ripped away from them by powers above. It is clear each player had wanted to stay but were released with a single crumb of gratitude from the rushed statement released over the weekend.
Beard was appointed with the intention of building upon the third-placed finish, but with six members of the squad (including wantaway Rinsola Babajide and more than likely some more players to follow suit) gone, it already looks like an impossible task.Embed from Getty Images
This is before one factors in that fellow professional outfit Bristol City have dropped down to the second tier, with Durham and Sheffield United pushing to go fully professional too and try to secure the sole spot at the top which guarantees promotion.
Evidently the squad needed an injection of new signings and not a mass exodus, given its injury crisis in the latter half of the campaign. The lack of squad depth was so dire that for the last game of the season that Liverpool had just two substitutes, one of which was a goalkeeper.
Understandably Beard will want to bring in some of his own players, but it is unlikely he would have let Linnett, Jane and Rodgers walk away from the club, knowing just how short of bodies Liverpool are and what it takes to win a league over a full campaign.
Given he managed to win the title in 2013 after 10 first team players left the previous summer during his first stint in charge, if any man can overhaul the squad and lead the Reds back to the promised land it will be him.
The achievement of promotion after the difficulties Liverpool have endured the past few years would provide welcome respite and will rank right up there with winning back to back WSL titles for Beard given the circumstances.
This episode has also been a welcome reminder that these players are humans too, and deserve to be treated accordingly. The response from fellow teammates and former players and staff attached to Liverpool have shown that is only those at the top level who are out of tune with the Liverpool ethos.
They have ashamedly left Linnett, Jane and Rodgers to walk alone, and must learn from this to ensure it doesn’t happen going forward.
The gap between the club and its fans is growing, and will not be bridged by the inexplicable treatment of those who have given so much to the cause in a red shirt.
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