Skinner has got Manchester United on the up while rivals City suffer

Marc Skinner has got Manchester United on the up while rivals City suffer… it is role reversal with six points separating them in the WSL heading into derby day

  • In the Women’s Super League this weekend there is a Manchester derby
  • The two clubs find themselves in contrasting fortunes heading into the match
  • While Marc Skinner has Man United on the up, Gareth Taylor’s City are sliding 

In a two-year stint managing some of best players in the women’s game in the US, new Manchester United manager Marc Skinner experienced some of the antipathy attached to a game like his first Manchester derby on Saturday.

There was no love lost between his Orlando Pride side and Houston Dash. Brazilian Marta – one of Skinner’s players – and England’s Rachel Daly – of the opposition – did not hide their mutual animosity. ‘They just didn’t like each other at all,’ says a source.

But what really links Skinner’s two and a half years in the US with his current job restoring some lost credibility at United is the weight of expectation. So visceral was criticism of the Englishman when Orlando finished bottom of the National Women’s Soccer League in his first season that he disappeared from Twitter, where he had been engaging with fans.

Marc Skinner is making a difference at Manchester United as they are improving on his watch

His reputation of improving players technically is evident in their bright start to the season

Many of them wanted him gone from the club, which had superstar Alex Morgan in their ranks. It says much about the way players seem to respond to him that he not only stayed but left many of the squad disappointed when he took the United job in July.

Skinner, who was a teacher at Solihull College, was known in Florida for the way he helped players improve technically.

These are the qualities needed at United, where Casey Stoney’s departure as manager in the summer, followed by highly rated 19-year-old Lauren James (now at Chelsea) and vice-captain Amy Turner (who crossed to Orlando) happened because of a feeling that United have not provided adequate facilities for the women’s team.

Skinner has built a young team around 22-year-old England striker Alessia Russo. Ella Toone and Ona Batlle have also impressed.

Results have been far better than anticipated for a side who didn’t get Skinner on board until July. They sit fourth with three wins from four.

Skinner (left) is keen to work with young players and they are thriving under his coaching

But City, who invested far more, have struggled. With three defeats in four, they are ninth – a serious under-performance.

One coach who knows Skinner well feels that he has helped things by accepting the resources he has, however inadequate training ground Portakabins might be.

‘He is relentlessly positive and that’s what United have needed,’ the coach says. Skinner seems to thrive on adversity. He has the Latin phrase per aspera ad astra (through hardships to the stars) tattooed on his arm.

Hardships in the US were uniquely difficult in his disastrous season. He lost Morgan when she became pregnant, and star defender Toni Pressley, who successfully fought breast cancer, plus a raft of players to the 2019 World Cup and this summer’s Olympics.

On the flip side it has been a seriously below-par start to the season by Manchester City

‘People felt it couldn’t get any worse. That helped him to generate a backs-to-the-wall spirit,’ says the coach who knows him.

Pearls of wisdom from Muhammad Ali, Michael J Fox and Paulo Coelho were part of his Twitter output at Birmingham City, where he arrived in his mid-20s at the club’s centre of excellence and met his wife Laura Bassett, the former England international.

Bassett left for Chelsea before Skinner became manager. They have a two-year-old daughter and Skinner found transatlantic separation difficult in the pandemic.

It remains to be seen whether he will have the tactical nous to take United to the heights. A theme in Orlando is that he did not change the system when things were not going well. 

‘He will be like a squirrel with a nut, where he is totally absorbed with the details of the tactical approach he has gone for,’ says one source. ‘But sometimes what was needed in Orlando was a change in that approach, rather than going at it again and again.’

But for now, building United’s women’s team is enough.

Gareth Taylor’s (right) side look out of sorts as they head into a derby against United this week

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