Brighton are targeting WSL 1 football next season before their maiden Super League campaign has really got going.
And it may not be their on-field performances that get them there.
New manager Hope Powell confirmed what most people suspected – that the ambitious Sussex club aim to apply for one of the licences for the new full-time women’s league, unveiled by the FA yesterday.
“I’m assuming that’s the plan,” she said. “[The club have] ambitions to be [in] WSL 1. We see the criteria the FA have announced. It might have been two years down the line, but they want it now and we want to be part of that journey. But obviously, we have to fulfil the criteria.”
The new requirements include having a full-time playing squad and an academy – and granting of licences will not be dependent on where teams finish in the league – or even which division they currently play in.
If you don’t fulfil the criteria, even if you’ve won the league, you wouldn’t get promoted – Hope Powell, Brighton head coach
That means if Brighton can satisfy the standards laid down by the FA, the club could be playing at the top of the new domestic women’s football pyramid just 12 months after dipping their toe in Super League competition for the first time, regardless of how successful they are this season.
Powell, who began her reign as the club’s head coach today, said Brighton’s ambition and set-up were what attracted her to the south coast.
And now the former England manager, who lifted the national team to previously uncharted heights before bowing out on a low after a poor European Championship campaign in 2013, has eyes on managing at élite club level as soon as possible.
Asked whether Brighton – who began their WSL 2 odyssey with a 1-0 win at Aston Villa last Sunday – were aiming for a place in next year’s new WSL 1, she said: “I would hope so, yes. Absolutely.”
The club says it is currently considering the new criteria before making a decision, but a spokesman said: “Of course the aim of the club will always be to play at the highest possible level.”
Powell added: “I think the infrastructure and how they’ve embedded the women’s set-up into the club, as part of the community, is really important.
“The conversations I’ve had with management, in committee, with the owner… everybody’s striving to make Brighton – not just the women, but the men – sustainable, in the Premiership, in WSL 1, looking further afield, the Champions League.
“And if it isn’t next time around, hopefully, it will be the next time around, but that’s the aspiration.”
However, Powell, 50, who worked in sports development while carving out a successful playing career before her time as England manager and subsequent overseas coaching education roles with Uefa, Fifa and the Professional Footballers’ Association, is conscious that Brighton should not run before they can walk, developing at a manageable rate.
“I think the foundations are here,” she said. “You can see from the facilities they’re serious – serious sensibly, if that makes sense. It’s not all about ploughing big [money].
“I’m a builder, not a buyer.”
I know the global game. I know the talent that’s out there – Hope Powell
Powell acknowledged that the prospect of a lower-tier team (or even one that doesn’t currently feature in the Super League set-up) leapfrogging established sides because they have the resources to satisfy the FA’s demanding requirements was a tricky one to justify.
She said: “It’s a difficult one because you want the standard to be a good standard to develop players. I was part of the FA… and you want those players coming out of clubs to do well for their country. So if you’ve got the infrastructure right, you’ve got the right personnel, you’ve got every chance of attracting good players and make WSL 1 a really competitive league.
“I think with WSL 2, just because you win the league, you still have to apply… anyway, so if you don’t fulfil the criteria, even if you’ve won the league, you wouldn’t get promoted.
“So it will be about fulfilling criteria – being able to sustain player development, coaching, all the support staff.”
Asked about the prospect of more overseas players joining the WSL revolution, Powell responded: “It’s happening now, isn’t it? If female players, just like in the men’s game, can go to another country and get a good football education… they’re entitled to do that.
“Because I was part of the England set-up, I know the global game. I know the talent that’s out there. I think English players are talented.”
A full interview with Hope Powell will appear on Sent Her Forward later.