With 2022 just around the corner, Marc Skinner chats Manchester United Women improvement, England Women prospects and January transfers with Sky Sports News’ Anton Toloui.
Skinner arrived at United in July, taking over the reins from Casey Stoney after two successful years in the Women’s Super League. Having helped revolutionise women’s football at Birmingham, the coach arrived with plenty of experience.
After ten games, United sit in fourth over the winter break, two points behind Tottenham in third and a spot in next season’s Champions League. Although they have won 50 per cent of their Barclays FA Women’s Super League matches, performances in three draws and two defeats leaves Skinner and United with plenty to work on.
The manager told Sky Sports News: “I think we have a lot of good players, but the best teams win. We’re trying to build a culture here where the team is the most important and not the individual. The individuals shine and show their qualities but for us, we want to build that togetherness where everybody wants to work for everybody.
“It’s such a shame because other results have sometimes marred performances at times. We’ve not performed excellently in every game, but in the majority of games, we’ve been on top and not been as ruthless as we need to be. The one thing I want to remind this group is to be ruthless in both boxes.”
In fact, only the WSL’s top two – Arsenal Women and Chelsea Women – have scored more goals than Man Utd (19 – level with Manchester City Women), but they have conceded 13 times, which is by far the most of the sides in the top five.
Of course, with 2022 only a few days away, the January transfer window is on the horizon. With the National Women’s Soccer League in the USA currently between seasons, players may look to play in the WSL to maintain their fitness. Skinner knows the league well too, having coached at Orlando Pride for two and a half years.
He said: “We are trying to be active in this window if the right players come up that will match the kind of level of performance, as well as the good personality. I want this team to be so tight knit.
“I do understand the American market, it is something I will definitely be looking at when we look to recruit, but it has to be the right person and it has to be the right time.
“I feel in the women’s game that there are so many untapped talent streams that you can look at and say ‘she can be really talented in a different setting’ and that’s the beauty. As our game grows more throughout Europe and throughout England, even players in the Championship, there will be players who can step up, they just need the opportunity to do that.
“We have cast our net wide and we will then narrow in. Over the next few weeks, we will tap away at who we want in. but we’ll be rigorous and laser-focused on the right people in this window. If they become available, we’ve been given the support of the club to go and get the players that we feel can make the difference.”
Pathway to England
Skinner already has plenty of up-and-coming talent in his Manchester United squad. Ella Toone and Katie Zelem have made their England debuts this year, with Mary Earps and Alessia Russo also included in recent squads.
The Lionesses have a new manager in Sarina Wiegman, and Skinner is hoping other plays in his squad – including Aoife Mannion, Millie Turner and Hannah Blundell – can catch the eye ahead of a home European Championships next summer.
“I kind of hope so [players will be called up] because I feel that they’ve showed the qualities,” the United boss said.
“We’ll probably only have about two people in training then over the international period, but it’d be a great individual development programme then.
“I just wanted consistency. If you look at our back line, with Aoife, this is the first season she’s played consistently for a long time. If you look at the 90 [minutes] she’s accumulating now, Aoife is getting back into the player that I knew and understood at Birmingham.
“I’ve continued to push home that if Hannah keeps her standards and keeps pushing, she should definitely be looked at as someone who is in and around Sarina’s ideas. I’ll never force that on the national team manager and she’s always watching, which is great.
“We’ve then got Kirstie Smith who is coming back, Martha Harris as well. So it’s a really competitive bunch once we can get them all in and healthy. What drives players is not only winning games, but competition with each other and within the squad because that brings out the best in them.
“If Manchester United are going to produce what we want to be where we want, which is Champions Leagues, winning titles and cup competitions, we have to have the depth and challenge within the squad.
“Hopefully we can grow our players into that international fold, but we still need to recruit and make our team strong so we can compete at all levels.”
Skinner finally home for Christmas
2021 marks the first year Skinner has been working in the UK since his move to Orlando in 2019. It will mean more time with his family and no flying back and forth across the Atlantic.
“We were always home for Christmas, but it almost felt like a fly-in visit,” Skinner reflected. “This will be the first time in two years that I’ll be able to spend time with my parents. That is going to be something great to have. We’re human as well, we don’t just manage football teams, so it’ll be great to see the family.
“It’s great now my daughter is now aware of Christmas, so it’s great to have her experience Christmas together. Even as simple as watching a good Christmas film, cuddled up with your family is my idea of heaven.
“I’m looking forward to it. We’re going to sit in, we’re going to stay safe and stay in a tight knit bubble and just enjoy our Christmas together. I hope all our fans continue to do that as well.”