Stoney: We're excited for the season ahead
Manchester United Women begin our first campaign in the Women's Super League next month, and boss Casey Stoney says the Reds cannot wait to get started.
The team returned to training in mid-July and took part in two pre-season friendlies in Norway last week, against Valerenga and Sandefjord.
We caught up with Stoney at Leigh Sports Village ahead of the new season, which begins on 7 September against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.
Scroll down to read Casey’s thoughts on pre-season, our new signings, the departure of Alex Greenwood and that opening-day clash against City…
Welcome back, Casey. How are you feeling ahead of the new season?
"I’m really positive. I’m pleased with our recruitment throughout the summer. We’ve added some great characters with talent into this group. We’ve had a fantastic trip to Norway. The players have come back from the World Cup in a really positive place, and it’s going to be a new challenge for us. We know that. It’s not going to be like it was last season. We’re going to have some tough times ahead, there’s going to be some difficult periods, because it’s a new league. The opposition are going to be of a far greater level, so it’s a challenge that we’re looking forward to and that we’re preparing for."
You mention that trip to Norway – how beneficial was that for the squad? How do you assess the trip?
"I thought it was invaluable, to be able to get away together as a group for six days. We’ve got new staff, new players. Integration of those [players], cohesion, a great test against Valerenga, where we knew that we would probably come up short, if I’m honest. It was done on purpose, because they’re halfway through their season; we’re only two weeks into pre-season. Then a second game, against a different test, where we’re more capable of winning it. It was great. We learnt a lot about each other, we learnt a lot about playing styles and new players, so for me it was great, and we also got some downtime as a team, as well, which is really important during those periods.
You touched on the new signings that we made at the start of the summer. How are they settling?
“They’re settling in fine. I knew all of them, personally, before I signed them. We’ve brought in some characters and they’re all very talented, and they add a wealth of experience to this team, which is what we needed. So they’re a breath of fresh air, and they’ve actually fitted in like they’ve always been here. But that’s the strength of this group, you know: when you come in, you feel like you’re part of something.”
For people who haven’t seen the new signings in action, could you talk a little bit about what they’ll bring in terms of their ability on the pitch?
"Yeah, obviously Mary [Earps] was our most recent recruitment, obviously with the announcement of Siobhan [Chamberlain] expecting a baby. Everyone was surprised by the signing, but Mary’s fantastic with her feet, so she’ll add an awful lot in terms of the way we want to play. She’s a great communicator, she’s positive around the group, so so far she’s been a breath of fresh air for us.
“Abbie McManus has signed from the other side [of Manchester]! But I’ve [always] been an admirer of hers. I worked with her as assistant coach at England, and she’s a good one v one defender and a great ball-player, so she just strengthens our defensive capabilities and we have more options there to pick from. Hayley Ladd is someone that I watched from afar last year. I watched a lot of Birmingham [City] games. So calm, so composed, uses the ball really well and also is great at tackling and getting physical in the midfield, which is what we’ve sometimes lacked a little bit. So that gives us more options in there.
“Jane Ross is a proven goalscorer, especially at that level. Her movement is unbelievable, her intelligence, the way she plays, and she knows how to finish, which is great for us.Jackie [Groenen] is a European champion, a World Cup silver medallist, unbelievable mentality. She brings that Dutch mentality to our changing room, which is is great. She’s always, ‘Slow things down, speed things up, slow things down’. Not everything has to be 100mph. And she’s got this ability to find a way to play forward, which is the way we want to play, and our attacking philosophy will fit nicely into that.”
We’ve also had the recent departure of Alex Greenwood. Just gives us your thoughts on that…
“Obviously, losing Alex is a big loss for us as a club, and especially as a team. But as soon as we knew that Alex had an interest in leaving, we felt that it was best, as a club, that we allowed her to pursue that interest. Alex was a big part of the team last year, and will forever remain in this team’s history, but I’ve always said it’s not just one player, it’s all about the squad, and it’s about every player that contributes to this team, and we’ve got a fantastic squad now and a great team moving into this season. We wish Alex the very best for her new challenge, and I’m positive and confident that we’re in a great place with her replacement. We’ve recruited in a very specific way for the 18 months. We want the right characters with the right talent to add to this group. We also need to remember that we’ve come a very long way in such a short space of time, and every member of staff and every player in this team is fully committed to this journey and what we want to achieve for this fantastic club.”
Jackie Groenen (centre) joined up with the squad after an impressive World Cup with the Netherlands.
What are your current thoughts on replacing the club captain role?
"We lose our captain, but I have to go back to last season. We don’t just have one captain – I have two different leadership groups that I rely heavily on, on and off the pitch, that influence our culture and our environment, and set the standards. So I’ll take my time with the captaincy now. I’m in no rush because I know I’ve got people in that dressing room that can manage it. I think the captain will come to the fore over the next six weeks. Like I said, I’ll take my time and make sure that it’s a measured decision rather than a quick, wrong decision. I need a captain that I can trust. I need a captain that the players can trust, and somebody that’s going to set those standards every single day, on and off the pitch."
It’s our WSL debut this season, with an opener against Manchester City – how excited are the team to get started in this league?
"Well you couldn’t ask for a bigger start, could you?! So I haven’t had to sell pre-season, which is great, because it means the players are all working hard. Listen, they’re excited. They know it’s a new challenge. They know that the levels need to go up, [that] there’s going to be new demands. We’re going to have to be better on the ball. We’re going to have to be more organised out of possession, and all of those things we were really tough on them [about] last year, when they couldn’t understand it – they won 7-1 and we’re still picking out the one goal – it was because we need those standards this year, because if you make mistakes in this league, you’ll get punished. But it’s an exciting time for us. We aim to be competitive in every game, but we also know it’s our debut season in this league."
Captain Alex Greenwood has departed to join Lyon.
The match will be taking place at the Etihad Stadium – it should be a great occasion, for both the players and fans…
"Yeah, fantastic, and what were the odds of having a Manchester derby on the first game of the season? But it’s been great to have that as a selling point. I think the crowd will be good. I’m hoping that we can get a real away support there, and make the Etihad Red, as Red as can be, and we’re preparing the players. We want to go there and be competitive, and it’ll be a great occasion for the players, for us as staff, to make sure that we’re prepared, and we want to go there and we want to try and win."
Do you have any specific targets for the team for their first campaign in the top tier?
"No, I don’t think it would be right to set a target based on the fact that we’ve only just been promoted. Internally, we want to be competitive, and we want to make sure that we give it everything to be successful for this club. We’ll take it game by game. I know that’s very cliche, but we will do, because we won’t really know where we’re at until we’re probably five or six games into this season, and then we can really start setting targets from there."