The upcoming FA Cup 5th round clash between archrivals Manchester United and Manchester City will be a “battle for rights,” veteran goalkeeper Karen Bardsley says.
“It does get a little spicy, you know?” the Manchester City keeper told Connect the World’s Becky Anderson in Dubai this week.
The two teams will meet on Sunday at Leigh Sports Village, a 12,000 capacity stadium, in what will be their second encounter in a fortnight. Recent derbies have been a “celebration of where women’s football has come,” Bardsley said, remembering fondly a 2019 game at City’s Etihad stadium which drew a crowd of 30,000 people.
“I thought that was really cool. There were 30, some odd thousand people at that game. It was an amazing atmosphere,” the 37-year-old said.
Another memorable derby moment came last year when City’s Caroline Weir scored a wonderful chipped goal, which was nominated for the 2021 Puskas Award, the prize given by FIFA to the best goal of the year.
“It was a fantastic execution, the technique was brilliant. It was literally top bins. So there’s just nothing to differentiate that men or women, it was just an incredible goal,” said Bardsley.
Sunday’s game carries extra weight because City and United are neck and neck in the race for the coveted Champions League qualification spots, sitting in fifth and fourth place in the Women’s Super League respectively.
City will be without their captain Steph Houghton after the England international underwent an operation for an Achilles issue. It is a blow to a team already blighted by injuries this season, according to Bardsley.
“Yeah, unfortunately we had just really bad timing, I think … we had the good fortune of a lot of players getting selected to present their respective nations at the Olympics. But I think there was an element of fatigue that they probably couldn’t recover from quickly enough.”
A match made in heaven
Bardsley joined Manchester City in 2014, when the women’s team was relaunched.
Her arrival came at a chaotic time for the team given it was still in its infancy, but was fortuitous for both parties. Playing for Lincoln at the time, Bardsley was at a hotel by Manchester Airport waiting for a flight to the United States. She received a call from her agent who explained that the club’s director of women’s football, Gavin Makel, wanted to sign her up.
“I was like: ‘Well, tell him that I’m going to be at the airport if he wants to come and speak to me. I’m staying the night.’ So he is like: ‘All right.’ Then he rings me back maybe like 10 minutes later, he is like: ‘Yeah, he is going to meet you.’ I was like: ‘What? Okay.’”
The club promised the footballing community that the squad’s development would “mirror” the men’s team and “take advantage of the resources of the wider organization.” It has since been quoted as saying the women’s team is a “strategic investment.”
This commitment to progress was what convinced Bardsley it was the right move for her.
“I think for me at the stage of my career, it was something that I felt like I had been denied for a very long time,” she said. “I wanted to be part of an up-and-coming club with a really interesting methodology. I wanted to be a better player as well, obviously.”
She has played over 100 games for City and helped the team win the Continental Cup – the equivalent of the League Cup – three times, saving two penalties in a dramatic penalty shootout in their last triumph in 2019. She completed a set of domestic trophies after winning the 2017 FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium.
Despite growing up in California and maintaining an American twang to her accent, Bardsley is an England legend.
Her parents hail from Stockport, a town in Greater Manchester, and she made her England international debut in 2005. Since then, she has represented the three Lions at three World Cups, and Great Britain at the 2012 London Olympics.