It is not surprising that the general football focus in the blue half of Manchester is on Pep Guardiola’s Premier League title chasing Manchester City. Yet there is another team in light blue making waves in English football – Nick Cushing’s Manchester City Women. Captained by the inspirational centre half Steph Houghton, the team have just written themselves into the club’s history by securing an incredible English double. They are also seeking further glory in Europe, being the only English team left in what is their first ever European campaign.
The double, and their third major trophy, was secured by an extra-time header from England international Lucy Bronze, securing a 1-0 victory against Birmingham City. It occurred merely a week after stage one was achieved when they confirmed their first ever league title after comfortably beating the reigning Women’s Super League Champions Chelsea. This follows the Continental Cup that they first added to their quickly growing trophy cabinet in 2014.
You do not get any further silverware for finishing a season undefeated but is still an admirable achievement and this Manchester City team are now one of the few who have managed to do it. They finished their Super League campaign with 42 points from a possible 48, with their only defeat of the whole season occurring in an FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea. The most astonishing fact is that for all their attacking prowess, City conceded only 4 goals all season. Factor in their 13-match unbeaten run last season, where they dramatically lost out on the title on the final day, you realise that they are one of the most in-form teams in football. They are solid at the back, expansive and hardworking in midfield and clinical in attack. Right now, at least domestically, no one comes close to them.
This has been very much a team effort. Nevertheless, you simply have to pay homage to some of their standout stars. Scottish striker Jane Ross had a prolific season, ending with 13 league goals, whilst fellow striker Toni Duggan, one of the stars of the England Lionesses World Cup endeavours in 2015, was again exemplary. The experience of another international and serial trophy winner Jill Scott was again pivotal, with the box-to-box midfielder a combative midfield presence as well as a source of goals and assists. A Captain must always lead by example and none do it better than Stephanie Houghton, who has enhanced an already illustrious career. To lift her club’s first piece of domestic silverware, just over a year after skippering her country to a World Cup Bronze medal, is an unbelievable accomplishment. It is not surprising that many of Mark Sampson’s England side come from this gifted and focused group made up of fine signings and brilliantly developed home-grown talent.
Everyone associated with the club acknowledges that this should be viewed as just the start; that the team need to build on this success and start to work towards creating the kind of footballing dynasty that rivals Arsenal established during their domination in the first decade of the century. Replicating the feat of the Gunners, who won the league nine times in a row, is a long way off but they have the foundations in place – a talented squad of a good age, a growing fan base, finance being pumped into the club and excellent facilities including a 7,000 capacity stadium. Indeed the team, that only became an official part of Manchester City in 2012, have broken the attendance record for a Super League game three times since 2015. There is nothing to stop them from leaving their mark on European football too, with an exciting last 16 tie against Brondby of Denmark just around the corner. European supremacy is a realistic ambition.
The FIFA General Secretary Fatma Samoura recently praised Manchester City as leaders in women's football. It was no exaggeration – they are a template for success and an example of how a club should be run in a women’s game that domestically continues to grow in numbers and popularity. They truly are in a league of their own.