The appointment of Polly Bancroft as Head of Women’s Football at Manchester United has positioned her as one of the most powerful executives within the English women’s game.
In this unique, brand-new role, Bancroft will be responsible for helping take United to the very top of European football.
Bancroft started the process to become Manchester United’s first Head of Women’s Football much like any other job application.
“I saw the advert!” she told Sky Sports in an exclusive interview. “I was immediately interested in the scale of the role and the opportunity that this brand has, both in terms of women’s first team participation in the Women’s Super League, but more broadly than that, the power of the brand internationally as well, and the power for good that it brings.”
Bancroft had spent the past two years as the general manager for Brighton Women’s team, having previously worked for UEFA and The FA.
“Bringing integration and collaboration was how I worked [at Brighton],” she explains. “There’s certainly an appetite to do that at Manchester United as well.
“There’s so much knowledge and experience within the club. This club know how to do football.
“And yet it’s balancing that understanding of female athletes and the female game with the understanding and learning on the men’s side. [It’s about] those two blends of specialism and experience and bringing them together.”
The role, ‘Head of Women’s Football’, is quite unique within the women’s game but it is a position that Bancroft thinks we will see more clubs in the WSL adopting, as they realise they cannot necessarily translate their understanding of the men’s game neatly to the women’s.
“There are certain nuances in terms of working with female athletes. We’re in a different league so there are certain different rules and regulations that need to be met. So it’s not using a copy and paste model, but it is understanding the needs of the game, and being able to navigate through that.”
At United, the position will be a board role that combines both business and football elements.
“I think the role has got various different layers,” says Bancroft. “Clearly it’s to work really closely with Marc [Skinner], the players and the staff with the women’s first team. But also throughout the pathway as well.
“We’ve got eight female teams within the club and we’ve also just started up an Emerging Talent Centre as well.
“So it’s supporting all those women and girls within the pathway, then further integrating women’s football within the club. It is working with the recruitment department, the club secretaries, commercial, the legal department.
“And then I suppose the third layer is working with key stakeholders in the game. Working with the FA, broadcasters, and our supporters’ club to further develop the women’s game.”
The fact that women’s football is only growing with every passing season means that many of the challenges Bancroft might face in her new role are not even obvious yet.
One such change that is likely to come is the WSL transitioning away from being managed by the FA, something that Chelsea manager Emma Hayes has called for.
“[We’re] looking internally in terms of our role in those conversations. We have members across the club that are heavily involved in various different committees within the FA, and I think we’ve got an excellent role and a good voice… in those conversations.
“There’s a lot of dialogue between the clubs and with the FA into the best future for the women’s game. Everybody is committed to finding the best home for the women’s game in the long term.”
That is just one potential development that Bancroft will be looking to navigate in her new role. There are certainly other challenges on a more day-to-day level.
“I think because the breadth of the role is so large – it’s football and non-football, it’s working out the priorities to make the biggest impact.
“I think [it’s about] being able to be mindful of the different requests that come through, whether that’s in marketing, in recruitment, and working with staff.
“So I think it’s just being able to be really clear what the priorities are, and then sticking to your guns and using your knowledge and experience but doing it in a good way.”
Obviously with a club the size of Manchester United, it will still come back first and foremost to what happens on the pitch.
There have been three consecutive fourth-placed finishes in the WSL but there are now also three Euro 2022 winners in the squad in Mary Earps, Alessia Russo and Ella Toone. The expectations are only going to get higher.
“There’s been rapid growth. This is the fifth season in the new era.
“We’re ambitious and we want to win every game. We want to compete in the latter stages of every competition that we’re in. And everyone’s really rallying behind Marc and the team from across the club to help us achieve.”
In Bancroft, Manchester United might have found the final piece in their puzzle.
Watch Arsenal Women vs Man United Women live on Sky Sports Main Event on Saturday from 5.15pm; kick-off 5.30pm.