Eni Aluko has expressed her surprise at the news her former team-mate Casey Stoney is stepping down as Manchester United Women head coach.
United announced on Wednesday that Stoney is to step down at the end of the season from the role she has held since 2018, when the women’s team launched as a professional outfit.
After they won the Championship title and then came fourth in the 2019-20 Women’s Super League, this term saw United leading the table at the start of 2021 before subsequently finishing fourth again last weekend.
They were a point behind Arsenal as the Gunners claimed the third and final Champions League spot.
Aluko, who played alongside Stoney for England, Great Britain, Chelsea and Charlton, told the PA news agency: “I was surprised, because I think Casey has done an incredible job establishing Manchester United as a contender really for the league title only three years after their inception.
“What Casey has done for Manchester United I think has been massive. She’s really brought her winning experience and pedigree to that job.
“It’s a surprise, but I’m not surprised she’s been linked with many big names around the world. She’ll continue to rise and I’m wishing her all the best.”
In United’s statement on Wednesday, Stoney said she had made “an incredibly tough decision” and spoke of her pride at the team’s achievements, adding: “After a difficult season with disruption caused by the pandemic, I now feel the time is right to take some time away and for someone else to come in and lead the team on the next stage of its journey.”
It has been reported that Stoney has been unhappy with some of the training conditions for her players in recent times.
Aluko said: “It’s disappointing to read she hasn’t been happy with some of the things behind the scenes, which again in women’s football we really need to sort out, in terms of if you’re a big club, you’ve got to do it properly and do it how you would in the men’s game.”
United’s women’s team changed from training at Leigh Sports Village to the Aon Training Complex at Carrington, where the men’s team train, in recent months.
It is also understood that United are working on a package of medium-term investment that will increase and improve facilities for the women’s team, and that the club’s long-term intention is a fully integrated approach to the training ground that includes the men’s team, women’s team and academy.
Asked what she expected to see Stoney do next, Aluko said: “I think I would bet on her going for a job that is a challenge.
“There’s lots of vacancies – there’s Arsenal (whose boss Joe Montemurro is also stepping down at the end of the season), there’s some vacancies now in the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) in America.
“Either way, she will go to what she feels is a step up, or a challenge, from Manchester United. She has options, and it’s always good to have options!”
The 34-year-old is currently sporting director at Aston Villa Women, who have just parted company with Marcus Bignot as his stint as interim boss came to an end.
Regarding possible candidates for the United vacancy, Aluko said of Bignot: “He did a great job for us in really executing the mandate, which was to help us stay up and improve us defensively. He’s very experienced, obviously he’s available now, so yeah – put his name in the hat, why not?”
::Eni Aluko will be part of the punditry team for BT Sport’s live coverage of the UEFA Women’s Champions League final between Chelsea Women and Barcelona Women live from 7.15pm on Sunday, May 16 on BT Sport 2.
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