The first interview: Adriana Leon
Manchester United Women have been busy recruiting ahead of the new season, and Canadian winger Adriana Leon is among Marc Skinner’s new summer additions.
The Olympic gold medallist joined the Reds after her contract with fellow Women's Super League side West Ham expired at the end of last season, and sat down with reporter Pien Meulensteen after completing the move to United.
Leon discussed a variety of different topics, from her ambitions and desire to win to her go-to coffee order.
You can check out the whole interview below…
Welcome to Manchester United. How does it feel to have signed for United at this stage in your career?
“Thank you, yeah, it’s been great so far. It’s great to be here. I’m very excited for the season to get going and it feels very surreal at the moment just to be in the stadium and be sitting right in this chair.”
When did you first hear that you could be signing for Manchester United? How did that come about?
“A few months ago I knew my contract was coming to an end at West Ham and I knew I wanted to make a change. I heard about this opportunity and immediately got super excited, and I knew that it was going to be a good one.”
Who was the first person you called to let them know?
“Definitely my mom. Definitely my mom, yeah.”
What was her reaction?
“She was just like: ‘Wow that’s incredible, that’s great.’”
You become the first Canadian to play for Manchester United. How does it feel bringing that honour as the first Canadian at this club?
“Yeah, I mean it’s incredible to even say that I’m the first Canadian. It feels a little bit surreal and just looking around here it’s crazy, and hopefully inspiring the younger generation in Canada and all over the world to want to grow up, play soccer – play football sorry! Pardon! [laughs] I Haven’t gotten used to the lingo yet, it’s only been three years! And yeah, inspiring the younger generation to want to become a United player, and I hope that I’m making Canadians proud and hope to see more Canadians out in Manchester in the future.”
What does it feel like to be here at Old Trafford walking around?
“Walking down the steps over there I was like: ‘Am I dreaming right now? This is crazy.’ I’m so happy to be here and it’s an honour to wear the crest and I can’t wait to put on the jersey and step onto the field for the first time.”
What sort of conversations have you had with the manager Marc Skinner about what he wants to achieve at Manchester United and also your role within the squad as well?
“We had a nice chat before I came in and just listening to him on his coaching philosophy and how he wants his team to play, and of course even playing against United the last couple of seasons I know what the team’s about, and I love the style of play. I love how attacking-minded the team is, and they move the ball really well, and I know that Marc always brings that attacking mindset and it fits perfectly with my skillset. So I’m extremely excited to get started.”
You’re reunited with a former West Ham team-mate in Martha Thomas. Have you spoken to her much about joining the club?
“Yeah, she messaged me a few months back and was like: ‘I heard you’re potentially coming?’ and I couldn’t confirm whether that was true or not, but we’ve definitely exchanged some messages and it’s really nice to be reunited with her.”
Of course, you’ve played against Manchester United when you were part of West Ham. What were your memories when you did face United in your career?
“Yeah, I mean I really noticed last season especially playing here and how loud it is. The fans and the fans’ support and it’s incredible to see the fanbase here and it’s a bit intimidating to play in Manchester, so I’m on the better side now so it’s all good! [laughs]”
How excited are you to get to know them as well, the fans, and be playing in front of them?
“I’m very excited. I feel like this is going to be a very special Super League season. I think it’s going to be the best yet and especially with the turnaround from the Euros and England doing really well and winning the whole thing, I think that this year’s going to be special, great, and I’m excited to get going.”
For people that haven’t seen you play, what style of player are you and how will you bring that into Manchester United?
“I pride myself on working hard. I want to be the hardest-working player out there. And I bring an attacking mindset and I like to take players on one v one. I create goals, score goals and hopefully lots of those will be coming.”
What were your family like helping you grow up, in terms of wanting to be a footballer? Were they influential for you? I know you have some brothers as well; did they help toughen you up a little bit?
“Yeah, definitely, I grew up with two older brothers, we were a big sports family. I grew up playing ice hockey and football and my brothers did the exact same and we used to play outside 24/7. Always out on the streets kicking a ball round, and ‘slapping a puck’ as Canadians would say. So yeah, just constantly playing sports all the time and just being super competitive with them.”
You’ve obviously got a wealth of experience that you bring to United, most recently the Olympics as well, of course being a Canadian player and getting a gold medal, which must have been a fantastic experience for you. How has that shaped you as a player?
“That Tokyo experience was crazy. It was incredible. I still can’t believe I have a gold medal. Sometimes I just open my medal box just to look at it and make sure it really happened. [laughs] But it was incredible and great to be over in Tokyo and then come back to celebrate in Canada. It was a special experience.”
Check out these behind-the-scenes pics of United Women's summer signing Adriana Leon...
Domestically, you have played all over. You’ve got WSL experience, you’ve got experience in NWSL as well, and in the Champions League too. How will that help you coming to Manchester United?
“I definitely have been through a few learning experiences, and it helps shape you as a person, helps grow your game and I definitely feel like it’s helped me progress as a player and as a person.”
What would you say, to date, is your greatest experience?
“How can you not say the gold medal?! That was definitely the top so far and hopefully many more memories to come out of Manchester United and hopefully maybe win a World Cup next summer [laughs].”
That’s one of the big things coming up: the World Cup. How excited are you for that now you’ve had experience with the Olympic squad? You must be feeling great – the whole squad must be feeling great?
“Yeah, we’re very excited. We just qualified in Mexico, so we're definitely looking forward to that and I feel like in women’s football it just keeps getting better and better. So the next World Cup will be the best yet and it’s an exciting time for women’s football.”
Talking about the WSL, you have a lot of experience playing for West Ham – three-and-a-half years you’ve played in the WSL. What kind of league is it for you? How competitive is it compared to the other leagues you’ve played in?
“I might be biased but I think it’s the best league in the world. I think the best players are playing in this league. It’s super competitive from top to bottom and there’s not really an easy game that you’re going out and playing, and I like the style of play here. I think it’s aggressive, it’s tactical, it’s top and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be playing.”
Have you set yourself any personal targets at Manchester United for the rest of the season?
“To win. Win trophies, win and enjoy the experience, [and] create memories.”
Is that one of the things that Marc said when you spoke to him? Was that his message – that he wants players to come into this club that are known winners and they want to continue that success?
“Well, I think that’s even something you feel from the fans here. It is a club that wants to succeed. It has succeeded in the past, it’s a historical club, and the fans are used to winning. That’s something you feel from the staff, from my team-mates and, definitely, we are looking to be the best we’ve ever been.”
I know that you caught up with a couple of the girls earlier. What’s it been like getting to know them? How excited are you to play with them?
“Everyone was super welcoming. It was so nice to see, nice to meet everyone. It will probably take me a while to remember everyone’s names, I met so many people today! But it’s been incredible, and everyone has just been great and welcoming. It’s been nice to see them.”
There are a couple of players still missing who have been away with the Euros. Have you been watching much of the Euros? What was that tournament like for you?
“We were in Mexico, so we were in camp ourselves and so we were all getting together and watching games whenever we could, and it was just great to see the support. [There were] some great matches and a really successful tournament.”
I’ve got to mention Mary Earps, Ella Toone and Alessia Russo. They were all important players for that England squad. Did they impress you as well when you were watching them?
“Yeah definitely. They’re great players and I thought they made their impact on the tournament and I’m really happy for them. [It’s] so great to see their success and it seems like they’re really enjoying it.”
The whole tournament had record-breaking numbers. How good of a place is women’s football in at the moment and how much do you see it growing?
“It was great to see online all the numbers that came up and how it’s broken records, and it’s incredible to see. As a fellow women’s soccer player it’s great to see the success and how it’s growing, how quickly it’s growing, which is great.”
A great thing about the tournament is the excitement and momentum that it’s built. Does that making it more exciting for the WSL season to start?
“Yeah, it’s like there’s been an immediate impact. Since the tournament is over ticket sales have gone up and I hope everyone knows that we’re all playing in England. [laughs] We are in the Super League, and the league’s great to watch and hopefully we attract more fans, and it keeps growing.”
When did you first realise that this was something you wanted to do?
“I started playing football when I was three or four and I haven’t stopped since. So it’s been a big part of my life - sports in general. Even growing up playing ice hockey, it’s been something that I’ve always gone from one sport to the other, doing a little bit of schoolwork in between! [laughs] But yeah, it’s been a big part of my life and I haven’t stopped since I started.”
Was there ever a time where you thought ‘I might pick a different sport’?
“Towards my senior year in high school, I was trying to figure out if I wanted to go to university to play ice hockey or to play football. I was thinking about potentially doing the dual sport scholarship and playing both. I took a while to make my decision, but it seems like I made the right one, by sticking with football.” *laughs*
Was there anything away from sport that had your interest that perhaps if football hadn’t worked out you might have been able to turn to?
“I’m a sports fanatic! I’ve always wanted to be – I knew I wanted to be a professional footballer from a young age and that was always the goal. So everything I did was for football.”
What kind of a player are you in the dressing room?
“What happens in the dressing room stays in the dressing room! [laughs] No, I’m really just pretty easy going. Can be quiet, can be loud, it all just depends. I like to have a good time and listen to music, and potentially DJ.”
When you have a bit of spare time what do you like to do?
“Yeah, when I have spare time! It’s quite busy with the football schedule but whenever I can, I try to do hot yoga sessions, go for walks, check out new coffee shops. I’m a coffee fanatic. I absolutely need that caffeine kick in the morning. But yeah, just hanging out.”
What’s your coffee order?
“Espresso, just black, or sometimes a latte if I’m feeling fun.”
What’s the best bit of advice you’ve had, or you can give to people?
“I’ve had someone tell me ‘patience is a virtue’ a long time ago and that’s really stuck with me. I also think ‘believe in yourself’ which kind of sounds cliché but believe in yourself and don’t let anyone steer you one way or the other. Stay true to yourself and never give up. If you want something, go out and pursue it and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”