On December 22, Everton Women Head Coach Willie Kirk signed a two-and-a-half-year contract extension that will keep him as the Toffees’ boss through the end of June 2023. The Scotsman’s putting pen to paper last week will allow him to continue the work he has spent the past two seasons building.
Hired in December 2018, Kirk has been instrumental in improving Everton from a team fighting for survival in the Women’s Super League to a group with aspirations of qualifying for the Champions League and competing for league titles. Joining him in re-signing is Assistant Manager Chris Roberts, who has also agreed to a new contract until June 2023.
When Kirk assumed the post of head coach in the 2018/19 season, Everton were struggling with form and in jeopardy of being relegated to the Championship. After steadying the course over the final months of the season—despite finishing second to last in the division—the Toffees ended up a comfortable 15 points ahead of Yeovil Town, who were relegated with negative three points after entering administration.
Building on a campaign during which he avoided relegation, Kirk helped lead the Toffees to a sixth-place finish last season (after the FA calculated the standings based on a points-per-game basis). Vital to the jump from tenth to sixth was Kirk’s player recruitment. In the summer transfer window, Kirk brought in five players: defender Kika van Es from Ajax, goalkeeper Tinja-Riikka Korpela from Vålerenga, and midfielders Lucy Graham from Bristol City, Molly Pike from Chelsea and Maéva Clemaron from FC Fleury 91.
Last season, Graham (22 games), Pike (21) and Clemaron (18) all significantly contributed. Korpela, who started 13 games in net, and van Es, 14 on defense, helped steady a team that had struggled the year prior.
For Kirk’s shrewd business in the summer, his winter signings arguably did more to elevate the competitiveness and legitimacy of Everton as one of the stronger teams in the division. Kirk acquired experienced English midfielder Izzy Christiansen from Lyon, young goalkeeper Sandy MacIver from Clemson University and speedy winger Hayley Raso from the Portland Thorns. While Christiansen and MacIver played three and seven times for Everton, respectively, Raso — through injury — did not make an appearance for the Toffees before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ahead of the 2020/21 WSL season, Kirk again reinforced what already was a talented roster, signing defender Poppy Pattinson from Bristol City, right back Ingrid Moe Wold from Madrid CFF, winger Nicoline Sørensen from Brøndby IF, center-half Rikke Sevecke from FC Fleury 91, French striker Valérie Gauvin from Montpellier HSC and defensive midfielder Damaris Egurrola from Athletic Bilbao.
In just three transfer windows, Kirk signed the bulk of his preferred starting 11 for this past season. MacIver has been one of Everton’s standout players this season. Wold and Sevecke immediately slotted into the back four, Christiansen, Damaris and Graham have been key cogs in midfield, Sørensen and Raso have been deadly on the wing and Gauvin — before her injury — was leading Everton’s attack.
“It’s been a really exciting two years,” Kirk told everton tv. “I was very keen to continue that and start piecing together what our future journey looks like. The ambition of the Club is a huge factor for me. I’m a very ambitious person. I want to achieve a lot in the game.”
Using his recruitment as an indication of his commitment to winning, Kirk has lifted the notoriety of the club and brought a winning mentality to Merseyside.
“We want to take the standards at Everton to a completely different level. A higher level than it’s ever been before,” he said. “I’m desperate to bring silverware to Everton Women. And we want to qualify for the Champions League. There are a lot of building blocks [towards achieving those goals], but that’s what we want to do.”
As of writing, Kirk has his team in fifth place in the Super League with a total of 14 points through nine matches. Everton enjoyed a sublime start to the season, winning their first four games in the domestic league and qualifying for the FA Cup Final, defeating Chelsea and Birmingham City.
Despite a disheartening loss in the final and an inconsistent run of play in November, Everton have gotten soaring results against Bristol City (4–0), Aston Villa (6–0) and West Ham United (3–1). With wins versus lower sides and competitive matches against Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United, Kirk firmly believes that Everton is a desirable place to play.
“We’re an attractive place to come and play – top players are interested in signing for the Club,” he said. “We need to continue improving the players we’ve got and to continue to invest – and invest in a level of player that will help us achieve our goals. We want to develop our own players and bring them through the Academy system, and that’s exciting. We’ve been quite proactive in that.”
With Kirk at the helm, the spirit around Walton Hall Park has been infectious and ubiquitous. Players are enjoying plying their trades in Merseyside, and Kirk has been a major factor in cultivating that ethos. While he has done incredibly to lift Everton back into the discussion of Super League contender, he is candid about the steps that need to be taken to achieve the lofty goals he has set for himself and his team.
“We want to continue improving our everyday practices,” he said. “We’ve made loads of progress with that in terms of the staff we’ve got and the way we work around USM Finch Farm. It’s an exciting time to be at the Club.”