Double promotion-winning Burnley FC Ladies coach Matt Bee admits that he’s had to be ruthless in the off-season to ensure the club won’t be seen as cannon fodder in their new home.
The former Football Association employee has been ringing the changes over the summer, chopping and changing his squad in readiness for their first season in the FA Women’s Premier League Northern Division One.
Bee, who received the Manager of the Month gong for November in the FA National League First Division, revealed that difficult decisions have had to be made on the back of securing successive titles.
A number of players behind that success have been allowed to move on while several new faces, some involved in Manchester United’s climb to the Women’s Super League, have been welcomed in to the group.
“I’ve been planning pre-season and working on the recruitment side of things,” said Bee. “I always drift off and focus on the team, it’s hard to switch off. I can never really stop thinking about it.
“We held two trial sessions to get the chance to look at players. The standard of players was very strong and we offered places to several of those who stood out.
“We’re adding six or seven new players, some of who I’ve earmarked to go straight in to the starting line-up.
“Others will be given a bit more time, but I have high hopes for them. I’m confident that they’re the right type of characters and will work hard for the team.
“I knew a few of them already and had monitored them before. There’s a couple from Manchester United - with the jump to the Women’s Super League too big - so hopefully they will progress with us.
“I’m confident about the new players we’re bringing in; it’s still a bit of an unknown in terms of integrating with the squad, adapting tactically and to a new way of training.
“On face value they look like they’ll be good additions, but the coming weeks and, of course, performances and results will be the true indicator.”
Burnley FC Women won 18 of their 22 games during the 2018/19 campaign, scoring 39 goals and conceding just 14 times.
They finished 13 points clear of runners up Brighouse Town Ladies, they reached the semi-final of the Lancashire FA Women’s Challenge Cup and had their best ever run in the Women’s FA Cup as they featured in the third round.
However, despite those achievements, Bee knew that change was necessary. “Six or seven players have moved on, all for a variety of reasons,” he added.
“I’ve had one-to-one conversations with all of the players, it was the least that they deserved, but I’ve had to be honest and make some difficult decisions.
“We’ve had a settled group over the last couple of seasons and this has been the biggest transition since I first came here.
“Those players have been fantastic for the club, they’ve done themselves and the club proud. It’s a unique achievement to win two titles in succession and I think some, on the back of that, felt it was a good time to bow out.
“There were some attributes to their game that just wouldn’t allow them to perform at this new level. It’s my job to put out a side that can compete because we can’t let what we’ve achieved go to waste.
“For those that have moved on their skill, ability and tactical understanding didn’t come in to question, but I think our fitness and physical attributes are going to be massive for us next season. We knew it was going to be a big year for recruitment.
“We’ve had to adapt the squad, I was very conscious of the fact that we’d need to add in a younger core. We want to be able to compete at this new level, we don’t want to be cannon fodder.”
Winning won’t come as easy next term. The club will play alongside the likes of Sunderland, who finished second to champions Blackburn Rovers last season, Derby County, Huddersfield Town, Middlesbrough and Stoke City.
Bee’s hopes and aspirations will be tailored towards the challenge ahead, but that won’t dilute his winning mentality. One thing is certain, the Lady Clarets won’t be there to merely make up the numbers.
“We want to stabalise at this level,” he said. “I had a three-year plan when I came here to get us in the Premier League. We’ve done that. Now we’ve got to devise another three-year plan and that starts with stabalising. We want to find our feet at this level and see what it’s all about and then move on.
“We’ve got this ruthless mentality to get the job done; we want to win and we won’t accept anything less. There’s a re-balancing to that this season, but that’s not going to go away.
“We have to accept the fact that we’re going to be up against it, we’ll be one of the favourites to go down against more established opposition. That winning mentality still needs to be present, though. We still need to be efficient, effective and adapt to the demands of the league.
“It’s going to be a fine balancing act, we’re going to be up against some very good teams, but our focus is to win games and finish as high as possible. It’s a unique season for us and there will be expectation because the last two seasons have been so successful. My job is to keep us grounded and stay realistic.”