Interview

Casey Stoney: 'I got my work ethic from my mum. She had three jobs a day'

In an exclusive interview, the Manchester United manager talks about pressure being a privilege and being a strong role model

Casey Stoney talks to her players before the derby against Manchester City in November.
Casey Stoney talks to her players before the derby against Manchester City in November. Photograph: Lynne Cameron for The FA/Shutterstock
Casey Stoney talks to her players before the derby against Manchester City in November. Photograph: Lynne Cameron for The FA/Shutterstock

Last modified on Tue 15 Dec 2020 15.43 EST

If Casey Stoney is feeling the pressure of having guided Manchester United to the summit of the Women’s Super League in their second year in the top flight and third season of existence, then she is not showing it. “Pressure is a privilege,” says the 38-year-old. “If people are talking about you, if people are criticising you, it means that you’re doing something right.”

United have rapidly shifted from being outsiders to favourites heading into pretty much any game they play. “You’re always up against it when you play for Manchester United. As soon as you pull on that badge there’s not many that want you to win. But the standards are set now. Every single week there’s a pressure to achieve.”

November was a big contributor to that change, with an electric defeat of Arsenal, a hard-won point against Manchester City (having fallen two goals behind in the first half) and a penalty victory over City in the League Cup ensuring Stoney was named as the Barclays manager of the month and the USA World Cup-winning forward Tobin Heath as player of the month.

Stoney is always keen to look ahead and move on, but says those games were “significant in terms of the belief in the dressing room, belief in the game plan and a belief in the fact they can now match, go toe-to-toe and also beat the top teams in the league”.

The awards are an opportunity for Stoney to praise the unit that has been built on and off the pitch at United. “They’re never for me,” she says. “I genuinely think you are only ever as good as the people you surround yourself with. And I’ve got an exceptional staff group around me.”

Signing Heath and her compatriot Christen Press have been critical in closing the gap to the WSL big three of City, Chelsea and Arsenal. The curtailed 2019-20 season ended with United finishing 13 points behind third-placed Arsenal. “In all honesty, probably not,” says Stoney when asked if she believed the gap could be closed this quickly.

“When the opportunity presents itself to sign two world-class players with experience, especially with the youth of our squad, you take it. Especially in attacking areas because we know we can be organised, we know we can defend, I think we struggled a little bit score last season. So to be able to add a little bit more firepower and bring in people that know-how to win and bring that mentality was important.”

Casey Stoney during the warm-up before Manchester United's WSL match with Arsenal in November
Casey Stoney won 130 caps for England between 2000 and 2017. Photograph: Carl Recine/Action Images/Reuters

Perhaps the biggest testament to the integration of the Americans is that it is difficult to highlight game-changers in the side because they are so effective as a whole. Ona Batlle has been a wonderful addition at right-back, while Amy Turner and Millie Turner have developed into one of the best centre-back partnerships in the league.

“The stats don’t lie,” says Stoney. “When Amy Turner is on the pitch we concede less goals and Millie’s progress doesn’t surprise me because she’s so coachable.”

There has been support for Millie Turner stepping up for England and she has benefited from attending senior camps this year, but there is also a case being made for Amy Turner. “I couldn’t agree more. Amy Turner should be knocking very loudly on that door when I see what other centre halves are getting picked,” says Stoney.

The Barclays manager and player of the Month, Casey Stoney and Tobin Heath, at the front of the rest of the Manchester United squad
The Barclays manager and player of the Month, Casey Stoney and Tobin Heath, at the front of the rest of the Manchester United squad.

As much as Stoney likes to deflect the praise, her star is only growing brighter. To follow Stoney on Instagram is to see a working mum juggling a career at the top of her field. Somehow she seems to find extra hours in the day.

“If I’m really honest, I don’t balance it,” she says, laughing. “What I try to do is make sure that that time I do have is quality time. I’ve been so much better this season at making sure when it’s a day off it is a day off. I get up quarter to five in the morning, I’m home at six o’clock at night. I always make sure I’m home at six so I can do at least an hour with the kids and bedtime.

“I’ve got my work ethic from my mum,” says the 38-year-old. “She worked three jobs a day, none of them she would have deemed as glamorous, but it taught me that you work, it taught me that work ethic and the drive.

“I love being a real strong positive female role model in their lives and also teaching my son that girls can do really good things as well is really important in terms of equality and raising my son to respect and promote women.”

Casey Stoney is the Barclays WSL manager of the month for November. Read our interview with October’s player of the month, Vivianne Miedema, here