Leicester City Women turn attention to new manager search

An inside view of the stadium as players of Brighton and Leicester City line up
An inside view of the stadium as players of Brighton and Leicester City line up prior to the Barclays Women's Super League match on March 24, 2024 (Photo by Morgan Harlow/Getty Images)

After Leicester City’s exciting FA Cup run came to an end at the semi-final stage, some things need a re-think. It’s nearly time for the Leicester hierarchy to announce their new manager.

There has been recent contract extensions for Women’s Super League managers Gareth Taylor, Marc Skinner and Brian Sørensen. Emma Hayes has left Chelsea to coach the USA, with Sonia Bompastor due to be confirmed as her replacement. Meanwhile, Leicester City are looking for a new manager.

How did Leicester City Women get here?

Leicester sacked manager Willie Kirk back in April. This happened after a club investigation found he had ‘breached the club’s code of conduct’. It was a familiar tale for Leicester City fans. They have had a torrid time of managerial appointments over the last few years. Kirk was the club’s Director of Football before taking over as Leicester first team manager in 2022.

It’s not deniable that Kirk had recruited well for the Midlands-based side. But six months into his new two-year plan, the news came as a shock for a club unfortunately well-versed in controversial managerial figures. The club had invested in Kirk’s vision but after a brief investigation, they decided to sack him.

Who could take Leicester to the next step?

WSL experience should be a minimum if Leicester City are going to continue their progress and ensure they stay in one of the top women’s football leagues in the world. The options may seem few and far between, but there are some. It depends vastly on the budget the board are willing to invest, the vision, and most importantly, who has the experience in healing what is surely a damaged and frustrated team.

Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson has reportedly met with the Swedish FA to take over as manager of the men’s national team. Tanya Oxtoby signed a contract with Northern Ireland national team until 2027. Casey Stoney is also signed up until 2027, at San Diego Wave in the NWSL. Likely taking them out of the equation.

Carla Ward’s decision to leave Aston Villa means there is now another top flight team in the mix that could impact Leicester and their manager search. Ward herself would not be an option for the Foxes, after confirming she wants a break from management to spend time with family.

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A round-up of potential candidates

One of the most high profile appointments and a statement of intent would be departing Ajax manager Suzanne Bakker. Appointed in 2022, Bakker oversaw an Eredivisie win, albeit by one point in her first season, and Ajax finished second this season having been knocked out in the Champions League quarter-finals by Chelsea. However, tinkering with formations and tactics was seen as ‘not the Ajax way’ and her contract has not been renewed.

She would come with some unique ways of working and previous players under her management have described her as ‘lacking empathy’, but her work with homegrown talent and experience at winning trophies could appeal to a Leicester board hoping to progress.

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Melissa Phillips was surprisingly sacked by Brighton in February and hasn’t publicly been appointed in a new role yet. She’d taken the Seagulls from bottom in the WSL, to only two points off of seventh place finish. The financial support from the board at Brighton was the undoing of Phillips before she’d even really got started, integrating 10 new first team squad members. However, Phillips might be keen to return to her native US. That’s where she has experience managing in the NWSL, so it isn’t guaranteed she will be applying for the role.

Leicester City looking for experience

As Bristol City face a rebuild post relegation from the WSL, manager Lauren Smith would be a positive option with WSL experience. She is very progressive with youth players, and a very likeable personality. Smith has been part of a huge culture change within Bristol City but could the lure of staying in the top flight be tempting?

A player-coach role for one of Leicester’s many squad members achieving their UEFA licences could be an option. Fan favourite Sophie Howard has shown her dedication and commitment to the club and has been performing at the highest level this season. Howard has recently achieved her UEFA B licence. Although she’d possibly only be an assistant while she keeps playing, it would be an opportunity missed if she isn’t fast-tracked into management with a club she’s shown such dedication to over the years.

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Are ex-internationals the way to go?

Ex-internationals also catch the eye. They are lacking in WSL experience but boast masses of knowledge from managing youth players, working to high expectations, and links with big name players. Firstly, Sonia Bermudez led Spain to U19 Euro glory this year, and recently started her UEFA Pro Diploma course. Secondly, Peggy Provost was in charge as France became U17 Euro champions. She has recently completed her UEFA Pro diploma course.

Corinne Diacre was sacked from her role as manager of France’s international team. She hasn’t worked since, and comes with a history of controversy, something that surely Leicester would want to avoid.

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There’s Jennifer Foster, who became Kirk’s assistant manager at the Foxes in September 2023. Since Kirk was sacked, Foster has taken the reigns alongside coach Stephen Kirby. But only one point in six matches isn’t the best demonstration of what Foster can do. Foster is a UEFA A badge qualified football coach. She has previous experience as assistant manager to Lauren Smith with Bristol City in their promotion-winning 2022/23 season.

Darren Carter recently parted ways with Championship side Birmingham City. Unproven at the WSL level, but it would be a cheap option for a club recently reporting another £4 million loss during the 2022/23 season. Definitely not a fan favourite or the most progressive choice to attract top-flight players.

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