Manchester derby bigger than ever with United top as Casey Stoney defends club after Megan Rapinoe blast

THE changing of the guard in the Women's Super League means today's Manchester derby assumes even greater significance.

Back in 2017, Casey Stoney sat in Old Trafford chief Ed Woodward's London office, convincing him how she would build Manchester United women's side.

The women had been booted out a few months after Malcolm Glazer completed his takeover in 2005 because they did not benefit the club's "core business".

After years of criticism for their absence at the top of the WSL, United finally applied for a licence after a 13-year hiatus.

And they have already confirmed their arrival among the division’s elite.

They are now sitting pretty at the top of the table for the first time since they were reformed two-and-a-half years ago.

Boss Stoney said: "I went through an interview process, a stringent one. If I am honest, I never expected to get the job.

"When I heard I got the job all the cogs were turning about how I was going to do things.

"I went to the London office and met Ed and explained my vision for the women's team.

"I gained an understanding of how the club were going to support me in achieving what I felt we could.

"It was a blank canvas — I was going to build this club from the bottom up.

"The first thing was to bring in players that I wanted, embed the philosophy that I believe in and create the environment I thought would work.

"The club allowed me to get on with it, they knew I knew women's football better than they did."

The ex-England captain worked alongside Lionesses boss Phil Neville as his assistant at the time — and it was the former United star who convinced her to apply.

She had just four weeks to assemble a team of 21 players and her backroom staff.

It did not take her long to capture hearts and minds in Manchester, when the club stormed to promotion from the Championship in their first season.

But United's lengthy absence from the women's game still rears its ugly head, with USA superstar Megan Rapinoe blasting it as "disgraceful" this week.

However, Stoney said: "She's about two years too late for the comments, but people are going to have their say, it's a big club.

"When you go to United you get used to that. It's water off a duck's back to me.

"I came in and everyone criticised the club for not having a women's team, but I know the reasons why, when and how they wanted to do it properly.

"It wasn't resourced with staff beforehand for it to be able to be done the way it is now. I believe we're in a good place."

The team play and train at Leigh Sports Village, 15 miles from the men's Carrington HQ.

For Stoney, the next step is for her squad to have their own hub.

She said: "Carrington hasn't got the capacity.

“The club are completely in agreement that if we move into Carrington it needs to have facilities that we can use at our times.

“We’re not adapting around anyone else.”

At lunchtime United face a Manchester City side who have lifted the WSL trophy once and are three-time FA Cup winners.

But this time United will be the favourites and City striker Ellen White is relishing the underdog tag.

She said: "That's fine if everyone wants to put them as favourites. We concentrate on us.

"When they got promoted it was a really tasty and exciting prospect to play them."

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