Alethea Paul keen to measure Sheffield United's progress against team she had 'no choice' but to play for

Sheffield United's Alethea Paul returns to the club who gave her her break in women's first-team football in Sunday's FA Cup fourth round, but the midfielder admits she was always a slightly uncomfortable Manchester City player.

"I went through the ranks at Man United from eight to 16 at their centre of excellence but unfortunately at the time they didn't have a women's first team so that's when I made the move over to City," says Paul.

"I went to college near the City training centre. I start off with the Devs (the development team), had a few call-ups to the first team and eventually made my first-team debut with them as well.

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"I'm a Manchester United fan and all my family are big reds but I had no choice. It was just one of those things, I couldn't think about it."

CITY SCHOOLING: Sheffield United's Alethea PaulCITY SCHOOLING: Sheffield United's Alethea Paul
CITY SCHOOLING: Sheffield United's Alethea Paul

Not that she is ungrateful for the start City gave her.

"It was eye-opening, the level they train at, the intensity, the schedule they train on, it was a really good experience for me," reflects Paul.

"I was lucky enough to get involved in first-team training and their matchday routines. It was really good to see because I hadn't had any exposure to first-team football.

"And the facilities are unbelievable."

She is definitely a Blade now, having joined five years ago. The now-24-year-old is the club's longest serving player and things have changed a lot in that time.

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Even though the Blades are managerless after Neil Redfearn’s December departure, at the wrong end of the table and a part-time club in a largely full-time Championship, she thinks things are moving in the right direction.

"When I compare it to my first season, we were in a canteen waiting for training to start and we really didn't have a changing room," she says. "That was normal in women's football at that point.

"Now we have our own building, an analysis room, our own physio room, gym area and changing rooms.

"Playing at Bramall Lane week in week out shows where the club is at as a whole and how they rank our women's team. It was unbelievable of them.

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"Losing Neil was a shame because all the girls got along with him but I know the club's working really hard to appoint the right people and now and they're really looking after us.

"We've played Everton, Man United, (Aston) Villa (in the cups this season) and made a really good account of ourselves and it's just been that moment where we've lost focus and lost the game but overall we've had some good performances."

And being part-time is not such a bad thing for Paul.

"I've a full-time job at Burnley Football Club, I do academy operations there," she explains.

"It's not the best drive but you do it because you love it and I'm still living football throughout the day.

"I really enjoy my job and then coming to football as well.

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"Going full-time again would be a big decision and having a career behind me as well that I enjoy.

"I'll just try and see where I'm at at the end of the season but I think when it's the right time to go full-time I'll know."