The summer transfer window has not yet begun for Tottenham Hotspur Women, but already the club is making moves to ensure that this season’s historic success can be built upon to elevate the club’s status into one of the top teams in the WSL. Perhaps the most important decision this past week was to secure a new contract with manager Rehanne Skinner. The new contract sees Skinner making a commitment to the team until 2024, so at least through the next two seasons–and judging on her stellar performance in her tenure thus far, I can only predict a future extension.
Like most Spurs Women fans (I’m sure), I let out a deep sigh of relief when I saw the news. Rehanne has truly earned the title of “fearless leader” in her roughly season-and-a-half with the club. She has transformed the club from a squad that struggled to adjust to the WSL as a recently promoted team, into an over-achieving group ready to challenge even the top-level teams. She has instilled a spirit of belief in the players that has allowed them to see every match as winnable, and no opponent too mighty to topple. I’m sure she already has plenty of objectives in mind for the upcoming season (after finishing this current season strong, of course), but here are a few of my ideas about what Rehanne should prioritize as we head into a crucial off-season.
Preserve the core of this season’s team
Luckily, Rehanne and the club are already on top of this one. In addition to the new managerial contract, we also received news of fresh contracts for two of our key players, Kit Graham and Ashleigh Neville. Graham has been recovering from ACL surgery since November, but until that point had been the clear front-runner for Spurs Women’s season MVP (forgive me the American term). It’s great to hear that after her injury, the club immediately assured Kit that she had a place on the team next season so she could focus on rehab without stressing about her contract situation. Her new contract runs through next season, with the option for another year. And to round out a week of exciting Spurs Women news, we also learned that Neville signed a new contract for three more years. In Kit’s absence, Ash has taken charge on the pitch and put in strong performance after strong performance. She even became Spurs Women’s first-ever recipient of the Barclays FA Women’s Super League Player of the Month award after moving into a more progressive role in the formation, from which she has notched two goals and two assists. We know that she is just as strong in defense, and having such a versatile player on the team is a huge asset for Rehanne’s squad planning.
After seeing how well our rotating #1 keepers have played this season, seemingly in harmony, I am hopeful that we won’t have to deal with a change in the goalkeeper ranks during the off-season. There are a few more players that I think are crucial to the team, including our center-back pairing of Shelina Zadorsky and Molly Bartrip, as well as January signing Eveliina Summanen in midfield. Ria Percival is another versatile player similar to Ashleigh Neville that we would be smart to retain, despite the fact that she just picked up an ACL injury herself and will be out for the foreseeable future. And from the attack, the only player I feel adamant that we must keep is Jessica Naz, a promising younger player who is really starting to come into her own this season (she just needs to stay fit!). I was also growing quite fond of Chioma Ubogagu, but we haven’t seen hide nor hair of her in months, so that doesn’t bode well for her future with Spurs.
Bolster the attack
Rehanne acknowledged in a video interview about her new contract that a lack of goals has been a major weakness this season, and she will surely be laser-focused on improving our attacking lineup for next season. Immediately after Kit’s injury took our top-scorer out of action, Rachel Williams stepped up to provide some goals in the autumn portion of the season. Unfortunately, her pace has really fallen off since then, and she’s struggled to get into the right positions to receive dangerous balls in the box, often preferring to drop back and provide the service instead–a role that doesn’t suit her skillset. She is still a threat from set-pieces, and her experience as a veteran of the WSL is surely a helpful advantage for the team, but I do think we can upgrade the striker position in the summer. The aforementioned Naz is doing a great job at left-wing, but we will need to bring in some new options for right-wing to keep the forward line balanced; neither Kyah Simon nor Rosella Ayane have been consistent enough this season. Both players are prone to poor decision-making and wastefulness in possession. We should also bring in another attacking midfielder to compete with Summanen, though I have appreciated her efforts so far. Having that kind of competition for spots and depth in the squad will be what truly marks our arrival in the ranks of the top teams in the WSL, and will enable Rehanne more flexibility for in-game management and rotation throughout the season.
This is a time for the club to act with true ambition and bring in some big-name talent to reflect the aspirations of the club as a whole. We are certainly capable of making another challenge for the top 3 (and Champions League qualification) next season, but only if we can bring our offence up to the same level as our formidable defence. Spurs’ top-class training facilities and desirable location in London are sure to make the club an appealing destination for top players–maybe someone who’s “looking for a new challenge,” as they always say.
Stay true to the vision
I believe the reason Rehanne has made such a noticeable impact on Spurs Women already is that she came into the club with a clear vision for how she wanted us to play, and was able to implement it quickly thanks to her player-management skills being just as strong as her tactical management. From what I have observed, these seem to be her key principles:
- Be smart in and out of possession
- Win the fitness battle with the opponent
- Play to the final whistle
It’s clear to see that the team has improved in the first area, with well-executed patterns of play and a level of fluidity in formation that only a well-drilled team can achieve. We’ve also seen a massive improvement in the fitness levels across the squad, and it’s been a difference-maker in many a matchup. The final objective is still an area for improvement, as we’ve dropped points in a few contentious matches this season due to conceding a late goal, but from post-match interviews, it seems like the message has at least been received, and the players know that a full 90-minute effort is the expectation every game.
Because Rehanne has been able to do so much with relatively little investment from the club thus far, it’s crucial that her vision is respected and reinforced with a strong summer transfer window. While I have only followed the Women’s team closely for the last three seasons, it’s even been obvious to me how much of a transformation has occurred. On almost every matchday this season the team has played attractive football and given us fans something to be proud of. While it was sad to see the longtime co-managers Karen Hills and Juan Amorós let go last season mid-campaign, the club was right to act decisively and bring in a fresh perspective with Rehanne Skinner. We might have caught many pundits and opposing teams by surprise this season with our overachieving results, but next season there will be higher expectations, and the team must rise to meet them. I don’t think we’re anywhere close to hitting the ceiling of this squad’s potential under Rehanne, and I hope the club recognizes that too.
Now let’s get a cheeky hashtag going: #BackRehanne.
Caroline Stefko is a Tottenham supporter in the United States. She runs a newsletter, Spurs Across the Pond, which covers both the Women’s and Men’s teams, and also contributes to the Tottenham Depot podcast. You can find Caroline on Twitter @cgstefko.