Karen Hills took over in March after 13 years at Tottenham where she guided them to the WSLTraining centre refurbishments, new specialist staff members and a ‘one club’ approach – Charlton Athletic women have been building something exciting behind the scenes as they prepare to go full time in July.
Manager Karen Hills, who joined in March after 13 years at Tottenham, has had a busy few months working on recruitment as the club have ambitions of playing in the Women’s Super League.
So what are the club’s plans? How will Hills select a squad of full-time players? And how are Charlton embracing the women’s team?
Hills on ‘end of era’ at Spurs’Phase One’ and the rebuild Charlton hope to follow in the footsteps of Leicester City who earned promotion after going full time in 2020Hills’ immediate job at Charlton was to secure their safety in the Women’s Championship. She called it ‘Phase One’.
“The team was in good shape and I just gave the players a little bit of energy,” Hills told BBC Sport. “I didn’t have to change much.
“The coaching team had done a good job with the resources they had and the recruitment over the Christmas period was productive.”
Charlton finished the 2020-21 season in eighth place and booked their spot in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Next was the ‘rebuilding phase’ where Hills had to recognise areas the squad needed to strengthen.
That meant having “hard” conversations with players Charlton were releasing.
“Those players understood as some obviously have full-time jobs elsewhere,” said Hills. “From a project point of view, we really needed players that would be sustainable and come with us on the journey.
“We offered contracts to six players and we’re in a good place with them. We have supported the others to try and provide exit routes for them.”
New staff and recruitmentAssistant manager Riteesh Mishra (right) will work closely with HillsAs part of the rebuild, Charlton are bringing new full-time staff on board.
Riteesh Mishra has already been named assistant manager, while a new goalkeeping coach is set to be announced.
There will be a physiotherapist, doctor, strength and conditioning coach and an analyst. The under-21s coach will occasionally also work with the first team.
Those staff members will link up with the men’s teams for support and they have been involved in the interview processes.
“That crossover is so important. It will be a small team to start with so its important we integrate them with the men’s side,” said Hills.
“Those specialist individuals can then get support from the wider team. We all know in women’s football it starts off small but as it grows, we will add to our coaching team and backroom staff.
“Recruitment of players will be key. We need players who understand it won’t be a walk in the park and we need to roll our sleeves up.
“The club is keen to build relationships with those around us geographically. We want to have conversations with Chelsea and Arsenal for example, who have young talented players that we can bring in on loan.
“We are also building with experienced players that have been in and around the game, understand how hard the Championship is and how hard it is to get out of the league.”
The ‘one club’ approachThe women’s team will share some of the training facilities with the men’s and academy teamsIt was important to Hills that Charlton adopted a ‘one club’ approach and she has held conversations with men’s manager Nigel Adkins, as well as club owner Thomas Sandgaard.
“[Adkins] is a massive advocate of everything being together and pulling in the same direction,” said Hills. “He has been fantastic with me and the girls.
“Anything we have needed, he has been there to support. He came down to a few of the games last season.
“[Sandgaard] is obviously over in Colorado but he was able to come and see a few games to meet the players too. That gave us a really big lift.”
And as part of the transition, new training facilities at Sparrows Lane have been built, including changing rooms, medical rooms and meeting rooms.
The women’s team will also share the gym, canteen and some of the 3G pitches with the men’s and academy teams.
“There’s not many teams in the Championship that I think will have similar facilities to what we will have. We will be at the forefront of everything the club are thinking about,” said Hills.
“I’m also very conscious that we are going into a men’s environment which has not had that women’s connection before so we need to be mindful of that.
“It will have teething problems, I’m sure, but we will have our own space to create something and our own identity, as well as having a big connection with the club which will be really key.”
With plans to develop the women’s academy, the integration into professional-standard facilities and an exciting recruitment model, everything appears to be in place for the team to achieve their goal of reaching the WSL.
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