Aaron Little has overseen the transformation of Everton Ladies from a part-time WSL 2 side into a professional football club that has more than held its own back in the top flight of women’s football.
He spoke to the March edition of The Everton magazine to talk about the progress made over the past six months and the plans to push forward even further.
How satisfied are you with the progress the Club has made over the past year?
In short, very. As recently as June, we didn’t have a single professional player. Neither did we have any staff within our first team who had been exposed to what a professional women’s club was like - what it was like to run a professional team and the intensity of that, the level of work that has to go into it.
It has been a bit of a whirlwind six months. There have been a lot of changes and then we have had to apply for two licences and go through a number of FA changes on top of that, which have massively affected us as a club.
But I think our performances this season, which we will always be judged on, have been fantastic. We have reached the quarter-finals of both the FA Women’s Cup and the Continental Cup, for instance. The fitness and technical ability of the players has gone up since the summer and you can see the natural progression they have made. It is exciting to see where we could be in the next six months, given how much progress we have made already.
Is this season about embedding those foundations?
We sat down with the players at the start of the season with a presentation on what we wanted to put in place and what being at Everton Football Club would be like for professional players.
This year has been about trial and error. Some things we change every week, some we leave for a few months to see how it goes. But ultimately this year was about seeing what we needed to put in place for the 2018/19 season because when we get to the summer, there are no excuses. We have had the year to have a test drive.
For us as a club we want to be the best. We want to be up there challenging for trophies. But this season has been about whether we can go to places like Chelsea and Manchester City and compete. It’s pleasing to see that we have proved we can.
You came from Sunderland to take the General Manager’s role at Everton. Are you driven by that desire to see the Club return to the top of the women’s game?
Very much so. The week after I joined, and after meeting with various directors and heads of department, it was clearly evident that this Club is going somewhere. We have got a very young group of players and staff - I think Andy [Spence] is our oldest member of staff at 37!
We all have ambition. If we finish second next season, the year after we want to finish first. We always want to get better. I am ambitious, but I am also secretly knowledgeable in where I think we should be. I will always portray that we want more but quietly I know that we are going along nicely.
Aaron pictured alongside defender Georgia Brougham as she turns professional during the transition over the summer.
You were heavily involved in the recruitment of players over the summer to strengthen the squad with the likes of Wales midfielder Angharad James and Dutch internationals Marthe Munsterman and Siri Worm. How challenging was that and how hard will it be to strengthen again next summer?
We brought in nine players - no other club strengthened that much. Bring truthful, it was hard getting some over the line and to attract players new to the league. We tried to sell where we were going as a Club, the facilities we have at USM Finch Farm, the backing we have off Everton and the access to things like nutrition and performance analysis.
The level of detail we go into in terms of analysis and the wellbeing of players with things like safeguarding is one of the best in the league. We take care of our players and that is a selling point.
Next season will be hard because we are going to be competing with the top four clubs because that is the calibre of player we want to attract now. It will be challenging - do Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal have more to offer playing-wise? On paper, yes because they have proven they can go and win. But what can we offer? I would like to think we can attract those ambitious players who want to help grow something here at Everton.
To date, we have built a young squad against the backdrop of a four-year plan. You can see that when we bring in the likes of Chloe Kelly – what level will she be at after four years of regular football? We believe that she can be up there with the best by that time. But she is just one who we have high hopes for. The players have the drive to be up there with the best and we want them to do that at Everton. I think if we can bring in one or two experienced players to help them along the way then we will have a squad that is more than capable in this league.
Would you like to see more Evertonians come to games to watch the girls?
Of course. I’ve not long been involved in women’s football and I fell into it, really. But I can assure everyone it is exactly the same. It is football, it is 11v11, and it’s not a smaller pitch or a smaller goal. It is exactly the same and we are an Everton team. We play good, attractive football and our games are very competitive. I implore anyone to come and just watch one game – I’m sure you would agree with me.