Marc Skinner: Hard work and collective spirit can bring success

Arwen Moses reports from Manchester United boss Marc Skinner‘s media conference ahead of this Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final against Brighton and Hove Albion (12/4/23).

Above: Manchester United boss Marc Skinner is full of respect for Saturday’s semi-final opponents, Brighton and Hove Albion. Photo: Manchester United.

Marc Skinner’s Manchester United face Brighton and Hove Albion in the Vitality FA Women’s Cup Final this Saturday at home, and despite recent league success, Skinner is far from underestimating the Reds’ opponents.

Manchester United currently sit top of the WSL table, a point ahead of Emma Hayes’ Chelsea. However, the United boss is keen to establish a new mentality within the squad to build on their success. 

Several of Skinner’s squad have performed on the international stage recently, gaining attention from viewers globally. Following the success of the Lionesses in the Finalissima, Mary Earps and Alessia Russo in particular gained plaudits for composure under pressure.

Despite Brazil scoring a late goal, Earps showed resilience going into the penalty shootout. On Mary’s performance, Skinner claimed: “I think you saw the expression in Mary’s celebration for what it meant to her. She’s been exceptional this season for us, and things happen. What she showed and what everyone sees now is the mental resilience which she has.

“The save which she made for the penalties is even more impressive when they freeze frame it, and when you see it in slow motion. Having that mentality shows that she is a world-class goalkeeper, and she’s a huge reason for why we are keeping so many clean sheets this year.” 

Above: Mary Earps in training with England – her club boss Marc Skinner was proud of her recent international performances. Photo: Ben Phillips for Impetus.

Following the Lionesses’ success in the Euros, the growth in women’s football has been exponential. With more people than ever following women’s football in the country, Skinner is determined to continue raising the profile of the game. 

“There is a shift in society in my opinion. I am a big fan of Soccer AM, and they were asking questions the other day. It notoriously has quite a masculine viewer audience, but they were asking questions about WSL. The fans answering knew the answers to the questions which were coming up. It’s becoming the norm to watch female players play at the highest standards on TV.

“That for me is magnificent to see. It has a knock-on effect all over the world. That wouldn’t happen before, and now it’s happening. It’s a sign of society changing and we are seeing more growth. I think there is a real enjoyment from watching the standard that our players are producing. I’m happy that it’s changing, and let’s keep it rolling”. 

For the members of the squad not gaining international plaudits, work has continued as usual. Skinner believes that the break from regular fixtures has benefited members of the team, especially those with less experience. 

“For us, it’s basically pouring our attention into the rest of the players. We are fortunate to have most of our regular starting players already back with us, but it is also great for us to work with players who maybe haven’t had as many minutes and really give them individual attention. There’s been a few days off for the players in between too. I’m a big believer in mental recuperation.”

Despite international success, The Red Devils head coach remains focussed on the upcoming semi-final. With several players representing their countries for different teams, Skinner’s role in uniting the squad is more important than ever, ensuring their usual cohesion is shown on Saturday.  

“We get back on Thursday, and everyone as a collective will have a team meeting. We will have a preview of Brighton as it is a very quick turnaround. It is fortunate that we’ve just played them, but our pitch is a bit different and the game will look a bit different; the spaces will be bigger and the ability to go one-v-one will be there. 

Above: Alessia Russo in action for Manchester United at Brighton and Hove Albion in their recent WSL encounter. Photo: Mariella Prew for Impetus.

“It’s about alignment and collective thinking, and putting us all back on the same page. We will do this by a meeting and I’ll set down my expectations for now for the rest of the season. It’s about hunting every opponent which we play against, not feeling victimised in any situation, and trying to manage everything which we can control.

“We are working hard as a collective and as a team to earn some success. We’ve already gone a stage further than we ever have, now we have to put all our effort into trying to progress.” 

When at Birmingham City, Skinner was within touching distance of the FA Cup, losing to Manchester City in the final in 2017. Similarly, Manchester United have never progressed further than the quarter-finals, until this year. Skinner is reluctant to think beyond this weekend’s make-or-break fixture, despite a recent comfortable victory over the Sussex side.

Melissa Phillips was recently appointed Head Coach of Albion, bringing fresh ideas and a new style of play to the Seagulls. While Skinner acknowledges this may be a spanner in the works for the Reds, his team is well-researched and prepared. 

“We are not at the final. We can’t think of anything other than about the very difficult game which we have coming up with a new manager. I’ve followed Mel’s career, and we will always do our work around the coach. We would love to get to a final, to compete in a final, and win finals going forward. 

“We have a very difficult task ahead of us, and the mentality from my group of players needs to be that we hunt any opponent which stands between us and success. I want us to turn up our heat on any opponent, knowing that the one we face this weekend will be very difficult to play against, and we need to be prepared for that. 

“We will always focus on ourselves and our performance. When I talk about having respect for the opponent, you must know the opponent. If you were going into a fight, you’d want to know what skills your opponent has, and how you can hurt them in the contest. It will be a challenge because it’s a new manager and going into a semi-final, league form doesn’t really matter. The reality is, when we perform to the best of our ability, we can beat any team in this league.”

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