Willie Kirk interview: Leicester City Women manager on how hard work trumps luck and why the Foxes are on the rise | Football News


Willie Kirk pauses for thought when asked how his first three months as Leicester City Women manager have gone.

“I’ve loved it from the first minute… but if it had been purely left up to me, I’d have not taken the job.”

It is a frank assessment from the Scot, who stepped in to replace Lydia Bedford at the helm at the start of November. He was four months into a role as the club’s first director of football, having been sacked by Everton the previous October.

But results on the pitch dictated a change.

As had been the case in the club’s maiden WSL season in 2021/22, the Foxes had lost every single one of their opening six league fixtures, but by this point they were on a 13-game winless run spanning two seasons and had not won a league fixture in nine months.

Kirk replaced Lydia Bedford as Leicester manager on November 3

On 3 November the board announced a change at the helm with Bedford, who had worked at the FA prior to joining Leicester, departing and Kirk immediately installed as her successor.

“We all live and die by results and Lydia has got a lot of good attributes in terms of what her future is going to look like as a coach and what she was trying to implement.,” he says in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports.

“It’s always a challenge going from national team football to club football and how that works on a day-to-day basis, rather than just an intense block of maybe 10 days. That’s a big transition and I don’t know if we managed to support that properly.

Saturday 4th February 11:00am

Kick off 11:30am

“But we had an experienced manager sitting in the stands, in myself, trying to support the first team environment rather than lead it and the board felt with my experience of trying to build a team for the future at Bristol City and Everton, I was best placed to be a little bit closer to the day-to-day operation of the first team.

“Not initially wanting to take the job was based on thoughts and fears rather than beliefs as I thought it would have impacted my personal life in terms of the time that I get see my son, that work-life balance we all talk about as managers.

“I was probably a little bit nervous because I was sacked in my last job and it’s a horrible experience. Unless you jump back in really quickly, I don’t think time’s a good thing because you start thinking about the negatives.

“In hindsight, that would be the wrong reason, and I’m so fortunate that I was told I was taking the job.”

Owing to cup games and postponements, Kirk has taken charge of just seven games in his first three months. Between December 3 and January 11, there was an unplanned five-week break, within which he could begin to get his ideas across to his players.

He is more than content with the way things are progressing and, as a result, there have been gradual signs of improvement.

“That time was really valuable, but maybe not as valuable as it looks from the outside because, during that time, a lot of games were called off so we were prepping; it’s not like it was just a five-week break where we could focus on building principles alone,” he says.

“I feel quite fortunate that a couple of games were called off because it did take away that immediate pressure of results and gave us a little bit of time to focus on the bigger picture.

“We’ve got certain performance metrics that we’ve looked at ever since we made the changes and implemented the style of play we want to implement and we’re quite happy with the direction of those.

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Highlights of the Women’s Super League match between Leicester City and Brighton.

“We feel we’re improving on those on a week-to-week basis and the staff and the players are well behind that because it’s been well explained and well thought through. We know performances are improving and we’re strong believers – based on history – that, if we continue to improve performances, we’ll get improved results.”

Kirk is clear in the belief that when it comes to football, there is no such thing as luck.

“We’ve made a big point that we never talk about luck or being unlucky and we never wish the players good luck before a game because I don’t think that is something that can be wished for. I think good fortune is something that comes from hard work.

“We’ve been very big on that and I don’t think the players feel sorry for themselves after defeats. Against West Ham, for example, I thought we were the dominant team and we lost 1-0 after an 89th-minute goal, which just made the players more determined to get it right in future.

Leicester’s win over Brighton on January 15 was their first in the WSL since February 13 2022

“My ideas are about trying to focus on us, rather than the opposition. You’ve got to respect the opposition and analyse what their strengths and weaknesses are, but my teams are always based on us.

“So that’s trying play on the front foot, trying to be proactive, trying to be aggressive out of possession, but also very positive in possession in terms of wanting to create goalscoring chances. I’d much rather put myself in a position where we’re winning games 3-2, rather than trying to grind out a point from a 0-0. High energy football is always based around hard work.

“We’ve got to make it an enjoyable place to be and create a style of play that’s enjoyable and inspiring to be a part of. Any of my good moments as a coach in the past have been when we’ve had a team of attack-minded players.”

Indeed, comparing Kirk’s four league games in charge so far to the six Leicester played under Bedford, they are creating more chances now, taking more shots and scoring more goals.

The Scot was appointed director of football at the King Power Stadium last July

Between the League Cup win over Sunderland on January 11 and the first WSL win of the season against Brighton four days later, they scored eight without reply.

“The really good thing from the two friendlies we played before the Sunderland game, the Sunderland game itself and the Brighton game was that we had eight different scorers across those four games, so actually, we’re a team that can score from of different areas.

“We’ve brought in Remy Siemsen from Sydney as one of our forwards, but I don’t necessarily think that we only need our forwards to score.

“Hannah Cain getting a goal at the weekend [against Reading in the FA Cup fourth round] after a long-term injury was really important. Remy will chip in with goals when she’s on the pitch and I think we can get more goals from Carrie Jones and Missy Goodwin.

“We’ve got real attack-minded midfielders in terms of Aileen Whelan and Sam Tierney and two very strong centre-backs in there who can get goals from set-pieces in Sophie Howard and Ashleigh Plumptre. It’s quite exciting to know that there’s goals all over the pitch.”

With all of the positivity he exudes, does he see these as the opening weeks of a new season altogether?

“Absolutely. We have reset our league table and we will see how high up that league table we can get,” he says, with conviction.

“The difficulty in the women’s game is that, as soon as you think you’ve improved, everybody else around you has improved as well and that’s what happened.

Leicester’s next five fixtures

  • Manchester City (H) – Saturday February 4, 11.30am – Live on Sky Sports
  • Liverpool (A) – Sunday February 12, 2pm
  • Manchester United (A) – Sunday March 5, 12pm
  • Everton (H) – Sunday March 12, 3pm
  • Aston Villa (A) – Sunday March 26, 2pm

“With all due respect, Birmingham had a really tough season last year and they were replaced by Liverpool, who are never going to have a season like that. People probably looked at Leicester as being that team this year; that’s going to change, but up until now, that has probably been the case.

“We are not looking at what’s happened in the past and we’re very much looking forward. That’s the way we’re approaching it and I think that’s one of the one of the things that’s making this a really positive place to be just now.”

With Kirk in charge and that winning feeling back at the King Power Stadium, the Foxes are a team with the bit between their teeth, gunning for success.


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