Tottenham have signed seven players this summer as Rehanne Skinner bids to improve her side; Spurs finished fifth in the WSL last season; Watch Tottenham vs Man Utd from 11.30am live on Sky Sports Football and Main Event; kick-off at 12.30pm
It’s hard to imagine that Tottenham are preparing for just their third full season as a Women’s Super League club, given they almost broke the ‘big three’ stranglehold last year.
Their first WSL campaign was curtailed by the Covid-19 pandemic so the 2020/21 season, which was played in full, saw them finish a respectable eighth place.
But last season – earmarked as another year of consolidation – Tottenham began to fly up the league, taking advantage of Manchester United’s inconsistency and Manchester City’s plague of injuries.
At one point, they were on course for a shock Champions League finish, but struggled to find the wins needed to keep up with their opponents as the campaign reached a conclusion.
Although there was plenty to be proud of, it does give Spurs manager Rehanne Skinner much to work on heading into the new season, which they begin against Man Utd on Saturday at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, live on Sky Sports from 11.30am.
As with most managers, Skinner is a perfectionist – aiming to improve her squad this season – but also a realist and knows the league table will not lie come the end of the season.
When asked if another top-three push was on the agenda, she exclusively told Sky Sports: “That’s the journey for us now. We had a fantastic end to last season, but we had some disruption with injuries and losing some players to the Asia Cup in January.
“We’ve got to be better in the second half of the season this year. That’s then an improvement on last year and it helps keep us striving towards being in a higher position in the league.
“We’re only another season down the line, we’re heading into our fourth season in the league so in comparison to a lot of others, it’s very early days. But those are the marginal gains we need to get going into next year and that’s the important part of it now for us to focus.
“When you look at highly successful teams within the league, it’s taken them eight or nine years to get to that point. It does take time, as much as I want it to happen overnight, that’s the reality.
“Every transfer window, you have to build, you have to strengthen and you have to learn from the things that are going to help you be successful. We put a lot of building blocks in place last year and now we’ve got to see the gaps again and infill those things, which we’ve been working on in pre-season, and strengthening the squad again.
“The biggest thing for me now is we have to be better than last year. I’m a realist and wherever we end up is where we’re supposed to be over the course of the year. The table doesn’t lie so that’s something we’ve got to improve on.
“If we’d had a better January or February, we probably could have maintained the momentum that got us through that spell. The last five games were a challenge as well because of the density of those games and the quality of the opposition.
“But if you want to play in the Champions League, you’ve got to be able to live with that regularly so that was a good lesson for us last year. Those are all bits we’ll take out of it and put in place for the programme this year to keep moving forward.”
One key part of that squad improvement – as Skinner herself said – has been transfers. It’s been a busy summer for Spurs with seven new faces arriving, including well-known WSL names in Drew Spence, Ramona Petzelberger, Amy Turner, Ellie Brazil and Angharad James.
“Our squad depth is a lot stronger than it was last year so that’s a real positive,” Skinner reflected.
“We’ve grown with our experience in our midfield as well, that’s seen significant changes. Our forward line has got a little bit more youth added to it so we’ve got players that are quite fearless, but need to adjust to the league so that’s something that we’ve got to work on.
“Ultimately, we’ve got players with good potential that we’ve invested in for the future.
“They’ve all come in and added huge value in different ways, both on and off the pitch. We’ve got a fantastic set of players who work really hard to involve everybody, welcome everybody and when players come here, they always reference how welcome they feel. That’s something that is important to me and the team.
“Then when you get those different types of experiences from those players that we signed, when you tap into that a little more, you get to utilise those strengths and you see them coming out of their shells a little bit more on the pitch as well.
“The things I’ve seen them do elsewhere start to come out as pre-season evolves a little bit further and then everybody sees the benefits that they’re going to bring to the team. That’s the process we’re in at the moment so I’m really happy.”
Perhaps two of the lesser-known arrivals help define Skinner’s recruitment process. Forwards Nikola Karczewska – signed from FC Fleury 91 – and Celin Bizet Ildhusoy, who arrived from PSG in August, are both in their early 20s and ready to make their name in the WSL.
Skinner explained: “Celin is a player I was looking at last year, and I’ve had experience of her when I’ve played with England youth teams when she’s played with Norway.
“She is very good technically, she will look after the ball, she’ll add value to dominating possession, which we want to try and keep improving on. She’s effective across the whole front line so she gives us some versatility in that area.
“Niki is an out and out centre forward for Poland and played in France last year. She’s had a significant rise in terms of her ability and her influence, getting a lot of goals in tough league last year.
“Ultimately, we wanted to get someone who was more effective more consistently in front of goal. She’s already proven she’s capable of doing that and physically, she’s in great shape to cope with our league right from the off. She’ll add huge value to the team.”
Skinner has experience of helping young players too. Before joining Tottenham, she worked with the youth teams in the England set-up and for a brief time, with the senior women’s squad. It gave her a first hand look at the players who went on to win the Euro 2022 title this summer and contributing to the success.
“I’ve been fortunate to work with most of those players at some point or another, whether with the youth teams or the seniors,” she said.
“The culmination of where that got to in the summer is something that a lot of people worked so hard for and for such a long period of time. It was quite emotional because you’re thinking about things that people have down to break down barriers, make sacrifices to get to that point. There’s a core group of people who have continually done that.
“I’ve been in the game for almost 20 years and I’ve seen all the phases of that and been involved in that at every level of the game so it makes it worth it. It’s worthwhile that we’ve got to that point now of winning a major trophy.
“Sarina has done an unbelievable job in getting the culture right in the team, in getting them playing to their strengths, knowing the role of coming on as a game changer as much as you do when you start the game and how that panned out worked brilliantly for the team.
“In the final, I’m not sure we were the best team on the pitch, but found a way to win and were resilient. That’s something we all need to take into the game because it epitomises the women’s game – how people have been resilient over the years. That’s what got the result at the end of the day.
“With the fans and the way that evolved over the Euros too was unbelievable. For me, being in the grounds, one of the key things was the way the fans were engaged within the game. The stuff that was put around it was a bit Americanised, but I actually thought it was a good thing because people wanted to be in the stadiums with a different feel to the men’s game.
“I think it does need to be a different feel because it needs to be a different collective catchment for people who want to come into it. We need to think differently about engaging people, fans-wise, for the women’s game and I thought that was a really good advert for what we should be looking at to increase our fanbase moving forward.”
While Tottenham now have their own Euro 2022 winner in the ranks with Spence, Spurs will now come up against a Man Utd team with four further champions – Mary Earps, Alessia Russo, Ella Toone and Nikita Parris – when the two sides meet in the WSL season opener on Saturday, live on Sky Sports.
Tottenham will once again be back at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as they look to begin the season on a positive note.
“Starting the league, it’s what we’re all working for. The first game of the season, we’re looking forward to playing that game and being at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is fantastic,” Skinner said.
“The stadiums that we play in coming off the back of the Euros should become more of the norm really and that’s something that everybody in the game wants. That then helps us to all grow our fanbases when we’re in closer proximity to the fanbases from the men’s team.
“That’s something we want to keep improving on. The opening game is something for us to look forward to and it’s what you work pre-season for.”