Carla Ward’s Sheffield United exit shocked me, but who are the contenders to replace her - Sue Smith

I was shocked when manager Carla Ward left Sheffield United’s women’s team this week but awful as it seems, your mind quickly turns to who should come in next.
FA coach Gemma Grainger would be a contender for the Blades Women's job (Picture: Andrew Higgins)FA coach Gemma Grainger would be a contender for the Blades Women's job (Picture: Andrew Higgins)
FA coach Gemma Grainger would be a contender for the Blades Women's job (Picture: Andrew Higgins)

The good news for Blades fans is there are quite a few good candidates based in the area.

The first that springs to mind is ex-Leeds United men’s manager Neil Redfearn, who also took charge of Doncaster Rovers Belles and Liverpool women. I think he is a manager the girls would love playing for.

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Two of my former managers, Rick Passmoor and John Buckley, are working in the men’s game at the moment but perhaps they could be tempted back into women’s football after their success at Leeds and Doncaster Rovers Belles respectively.

Former Doncaster Rovers Belles manager John Buckley.
 (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)Former Doncaster Rovers Belles manager John Buckley.
 (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
Former Doncaster Rovers Belles manager John Buckley. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

One of the great things about my old Lincoln City team-mate Carla, and what made losing her – only temporarily, I am sure – from the women’s game so disappointing was the fact she is a female coach.

If the Blades wanted to go down that route again, Gemma Grainger would be an excellent choice.

Like Rick, she is a former Leeds manager, and as well as heading up the Lionesses’ youth set-up, she has also assisted senior manager Phil Neville, so like the other three she is hugely respected within women’s football, and is based locally.

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I never played for Carla but her holistic approach often comes up when I speak to those that have.

Neil Redfearn, former Liverpool Ladies coachNeil Redfearn, former Liverpool Ladies coach
Neil Redfearn, former Liverpool Ladies coach

Managers need to get to know their players and understand how best to motivate them. Maybe in the past some old-school managers might have treated everyone the same but I always liked a more individual approach as a player.

Gemma is certainly someone the Sheffield United players could talk to as well as being a very good coach. And the Blades ought to be an attractive proposition for managers.

I do not know the ins and outs of the finances, or how Covid-19 will affect them, but they were able to attract good players and Carla always spoke about the support she got at Shirecliffe, particularly from the men’s academy coaches.

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The club seemed to have great ambitions for the women’s team and I hope they still have.

With Liverpool dropping into the Championship after relegation and Durham still strong, it will be a tough division to get out of next season but it would be great for United to have teams in the top tier of men’s and women’s football, and I am sure plenty of fans would get behind both.

There were maybe a few games last season the Blades did not perform in, but a good squad will have expected to learn from that and really push for promotion to the Women’s Super League.

Carla was pivotal in getting them into the Championship and you would have thought she would have wanted to take them up again. The table showed what a good job she was doing and I found the timing strange.

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The Blades had a good season pushing eventual champions Aston Villa and although I doubt they would have caught them if the campaign had not finished early because of coronavirus, they were second and not mathematically out of it.

I thought Carla had assembled a good squad and a number of players re-signed or joined in recent weeks.

When I signed for a club of course it was about playing for a team who could help you individually and win trophies, but it was also about the manager.

A lot of factors attracted me to sign for Doncaster Rovers Belles but if John (Buckley) had not been so lovely when I met him, they might not have counted for as much.

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Carla had a lot of contact with her players over lockdown and they did a lot of fitness sessions over Zoom, so it seems strange everyone went through all of that before this decision was made.

As with the men’s game, there is no start date for next season yet but the Premier League putting £1m in recently will allow players to come back in for testing and the Blades are due to restart pre-season training in the next couple of weeks.

Players will now be wondering if the new manager will like them or pick them when they should be totally focused on getting ready for a difficult season.

Editor’s note: first and foremost - and rarely have I written down these words with more sincerity - I hope this finds you well.

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