Manchester United Women's head coach, Casey Stoney.

Stoney already planning for 2020/21 season

Manchester United Women’s head coach Casey Stoney is already planning for the 2020/21 campaign, after it was announced on Monday that the current WSL season would be terminated.

During this in-depth interview, Casey gave her reaction to that announcement, discussed our progress in the 2019/20 campaign, the plans for next season, potential transfer targets and offered a message to our loyal supporters…

How’s life at home during lockdown?

“We’ve been pretty good, I have to say. We’ve tried to focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t, and the limitations we have. Of course we’ve had down days and we’ve struggled sometimes being locked in the house for 10 or 11 weeks and having your freedom taken away from you, in terms of not doing what you love. But, I’m never going to get this quality time again with my children. They’ve been incredible and kids are so adaptable. We’ve had loads of fun in the garden – for once the Manchester weather has been great. I’ve been trying to listen to as many podcasts as I can, which isn’t easy when you’ve got three kids. If I want to get on the bike or go for a run, I normally listen to something where I can upskill myself in some way. I’ve just been making the most of this time with the kids and it’s such a great time to be able to have with them. It’s a great time to be able to reflect as well, as a head coach, on what we’ve achieved so far and the areas I want to improve as a manger and within the team. We don’t get time like this to stop in football, so these times are so valuable.”
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Casey Stoney
Watch Casey's full interview.

The big news coming out of the WSL is that the season has ended. What are your thoughts on that decision?

“If I’m honest, we’re bitterly disappointed because we wanted to finish the season. But I do think it was the right decision, I really do, because the health and the safety of our players, staff and everybody at the club has to be a priority at this time. Women’s football… everyone’s questioning whether the men’s game should keep going, but we’re not in the same place financially. We haven’t got the same resources and logistically it would be a huge challenge for the women’s game. We’re trying to grow the women’s game and it would have cost so much money to get this up and running. As a club, we have that finance, that’s not an issue, but does every club have it and can every club follow the protocols? Obviously, training grounds are restricted as well, so it would have been really difficult to get the women’s game up and running. I do believe it was the right decision, as disappointing as it is, just because of the safety of everybody involved. We keep saying it’s unprecedented times, but it is. We have that decision and now we have to look forward. We don’t know what the sporting outcome of the league is, we’re still waiting to hear that. We’re in a position where it doesn’t really affect us. The bad is that we want to be in a position where we’re fighting for something, but we are realistic of where we’re at, in our first season in the Super League. To finish fourth is credit to the players and the staff that have been involved, but it obviously has a bigger impact on clubs lower down the table, in terms of what happens with relegation as well.”

Have you had a chance to speak to your staff and players about this?

“Yeah, we’ve had regular contact throughout, and obviously once we knew that the league was going to be heading towards termination, I was always very transparent with my players and staff about the conversations we were having with the FA. I think the biggest thing is to make sure the players and staff have clarity where things are uncertain, but they know the conversations that are happening and the direction they’re going in. As soon as I knew, I shut the players down because it was mentally really tough in this period of isolation to keep training, not knowing what they’re training for and what the end goal is, and if this is going to happen. As a player, you always set your goals on times: when you’re back in, or when your next game is. They didn’t know that, so as soon as we had the information I shut them down. I told them: ‘Three weeks rest now’, which is really important, so that we know when we come back in they’ve had that rest. The downside is that they’re not going to get away on holiday, which is vital for them really during this time. But they can rest mentally from the football. They can have less contact with us – I think it’s credit to us that we’ve stayed in so much contact with them. I asked them how much contact they want in these three weeks, and they want some time away, which is great because it means they’ve had the support. We’ve had a lot of tasks going on, a lot of conversations, and I think generally we’ve done a good job in terms of supporting the players and staff in a really difficult time.”

Will they all have a sort of summer holiday now? They’ll take that summer break and you’ll reassess things in a few weeks’ time?

“Yeah, we’re obviously following the government guidelines which are seeming to ease, which is a positive sign. At the moment they’re on three weeks' rest and then they’ll have individual programmes, which they would have had anyway, regardless of this. Then, hopefully, by the time we’re aiming to get back in July, things will have eased and we’ll know what protocol we need to follow to get them back in. I’ve got a bit of a phased approach this year anyway because there was always going to be a big gap this year because of the Olympics. We were due to finish on 17 May and not play until 25/26 September. That’s a long time! We were going to bring them back in for a certain period, then let them go off again with a programme for a few weeks in August. Hopefully by then they can get a few weeks away somewhere if that’s possible, and safe. Then we’ll come back and start a proper pre-season. We’re looking to phase them and we’ll very much be guided by medical protocols and what we can and can’t do.”

Hanson and Galton go head-to-headVideo

So the players know where they’re at and what they’re going to do. As a manager you rarely get a break and you’re always planning ahead – what are your thoughts ahead of your second season in the WSL?

“The first season was about trying to consolidate within that league, and make sure we stay in it, if I’m honest. There are no guarantees that you’re going to go into the Super League and know the levels and to be able to perform week in, week out. I think to finish fourth is positive, but for this club we’re always trying to strive for more and be more successful. We had a few little bumps this season where we weren’t maybe as consistent as we needed to be. We’re not far off the top three, we know that based on the margins of the scores, but we need to turn results around and start winning them. We’re always planning in terms of improving our squad and trying to develop the players we’ve got, and trying to make sure we’re more consistent in our performances. Physically it can take players a while to adapt, because the differences between the Championship and the Super League are vast. You only have to look at our result against Leicester, compared to league results this season. It shows the difference in the levels. We’re continually looking to improve and improve as staff, in terms of making sure that we’re better, and so that the players can keep developing.”

United Women take up the challenge!Video

So transfer plans are ongoing?

“Yes, and I know that comes with its challenges in this climate. You can’t get players in on face-to-face contact and you can’t show them around the facilities. Everything is done via calls like this, which is not how I like to work. I like the players to get to know who I am as a person and what they’re buying into with this club: the vision, the philosophy and our cultural environment. I like to know what type of characters I’m bringing in as well. We want to make sure we have the right characters on this journey with us. It’s ongoing. At the moment things are slightly on hold due to the situation, which is difficult. Ideally we would have it all done by now and I could sleep at night knowing we have the players we want. The downside is that we part company with a few as well. That’s difficult because I can’t see them face to face and they can’t have a proper goodbye. I say to all of them that no matter what, they’ll always be a Manchester United player and wherever they go they’ll always receive our support and guidance. We’ll always be on the other end of the phone for them.”


On reflection, how proud are you of what you achieved in the WSL and what lessons have you learnt to take forward?


“I have to say, I’m really proud of the players and staff in terms of the levels of performance they’ve been able to reach in the first year. That was a massive test for us. The first game, at the Etihad, over 30,000 people. Some of our players hadn’t even played in the WSL before, so to go out there… we should have been in front in the first half, we were by far the better team. To be able to play like that after six weeks’ preparation – and we changed quite a lot of players that day – I have to be immensely proud of what they achieved. But the lesson we have to take is to make sure we are mentally right in every single game because there are no easy games. The Bristol game after Christmas, we came back and lost the game. I look back and reflect on whether I brought them in too early. Did they need more of a break? Did we make sure the preparation was right? We don’t prepare any differently for any opposition. We prepare to win the game and it just shows we have to be mentally right to win the game. We have to start with fight, heart and desire, and our talent will take care of itself.”

Women's highlights: Everton 2 United 3Video

Now you must just be looking forward to the new season and playing football again?

“I can’t wait. I love football and I’ve missed it. I’ve missed being on the grass with my players and coaching and developing the team. I think the sad point is that we missed loads of opportunities to develop even further. We still had to play Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City again – three really big tests that would have been really crucial for us, in terms of our development. I’m looking forward to getting back on the grass with the players, when it’s safe to do so. I’m excited to see what the squad’s going to look like. I’m excited to test ourselves again in this league. When we get people back in the terraces watching, I can’t wait to see our fans and hear them singing again. Hopefully, we can show what we’re capable of next year.”

Those fans have been on this journey with you and they’re missing you now. What would your message to the fans be?

“Our fans are fantastic, and the support they’ve shown over the last two seasons – and now – is going to be so important for us. Women’s football is in such an important place right now, and our fans are so important to that journey. I’d say to our fans to stick with us, keep supporting the team in any way you can. When it’s safe to do so, hopefully they can get back into Leigh and get behind the team again. We can keep raising those attendances because we’ve got the best fans in the country.”

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