by Campbell Finlayson
Rangers and Celtic will both begin their first league campaign as a non-amateur side when the Scottish Women’s Premier League kicks off this weekend.
With Glasgow City dominating the SWPL, winning the last 13 titles, their city neighbours have tried to end that control, by taking advantage of their status in world football and moving their women’s sides into a new professional era.
On the blue side of the city, the women’s team are now fully professional, training alongside the men’s side and academy teams at the club’s Hummel Training Centre in Milngavie, while Celtic have signed a number of players on professional contracts, with the rest of the squad on a semi-pro basis.
Former Ger, Gregory Vignal was appointed as the head coach of the first team midway through last season and this campaign will work as joint boss with Malky Thompson and the pair are happy to be working alongside each other.
Vignal said: “To be honest I am really happy to work with Malky, I’ve known him for a while now and I said to him, ‘I need you to push me out my comfort zone’ and he can help me become a better coach, a better manager and we can work together to do our best.”
As for Thompson, the fact he can now work alongside the Frenchman is a huge thing, he said: “We’ve worked at Rangers and Birmingham City so we have known each other a long time so it’s great to work together as a coach as opposed to previously as a player.”
The integration of the academy and women’s sides into the club as a whole has been seen as a huge step, with Rangers the first Scottish club to become professional and Vignal is delighted that it has finally happened.
“To be full time you are only thinking about football. The time off the pitch, the recovery, it is the most important. We now have international girls which means more games and being full-time is important for the club. I am really happy, there’s been a fight to be integrated and to go full time for the last year and it’s finally the time, so I’m really pleased.”
Not only does the change see the players facing an increased workload, but the coaches have to adjust as well, although Thompson is enjoying it so far, he said: “It’s new for me but it’s great, every day is a school day. The broad investment is not just going full-time, it’s a full integration of the whole club, there’s a family atmosphere, a togetherness and that’ll hopefully grow personalities and grow them as people. It’ll definitely help the players; it gives them more time together and will hopefully help them to gel and understand each other.”
With the season only just about to get under way, Rangers take on Hearts on Sunday, it is too early for anyone to make a judgement on the final league placings, but Vignal is confident in his side’s abilities.
He said: “We will see where we are at the end of June in the league in terms of points. A club like us, of course we want to win, it’s part of the DNA, we’ll work week by week and see where we are. With the cups, of course you can win a trophy quickly, but the league is the main focus for us to earn Champions League qualification. Everybody is excited (for Sunday) because we’ve had seven weeks of training and they need to play so I look forward to Sunday.”
Across the city, things are moving just as fast, although in a slightly different direction. A number of the players are now on professional contracts at Celtic but with some remaining semi-pro, a hybrid training regime has been taken on. In charge of the Hoops this season is former Lewes boss Fran Alonso, the Spaniard having worked with the likes of Ronald Koeman down south.
He knows the demands of working at a club of Celtic’s size and hopes to be the man to lift them to the levels they want to be at, he said: “One of the reasons Celtic brought me here was to bring that professionalism, the structure of the week, the recovery and sleeping protocol.
“We are getting there; we are improving each week and we’ve changed the mindset part to full time. Not everyone is full time but those that are understand to look after themselves and they are. We give them a wellness report every morning and we are much closer than before but we have to adjust training sessions depending on how they feel.”
A trip to Gran Canaria in pre-season allowed the manager to get to know his squad even better and he feels it was of benefit to all.
“Gran Canaria was very important, it was the highlight of my time here so far. It was a good chance for team building so now they are not only teammates but also friends which is very important, you can see it on the pitch, they fight for each other, fight to get the ball back. I’m happy with the development, we’re not the final product, nowhere near but I can see they are reacting very well, and we are in a good position to put in a good performance on Friday.”
That game on Friday sees Celtic kick off the new SWPL1 season with a clash against champions Glasgow City. The Hoops were the only side that managed to beat City in the league last season, with a 4-1 win in November and they’ll be hoping to spring another shock at the weekend.
“We’ll try to win because we are Celtic, we’re being humble because we are Celtic, but we’ve only won one cup. We want to be the best, but you need to work hard and well, our only goal for now is get something from Glasgow City and we know we are good enough to get something.
“If we get a good result on Friday then maybe I’ll be more optimistic for the season, maybe fighting for things but for now it’s game by game. I am excited and I believe a lot in this team and this group.”