Opinionated, driven and creative - Casey Stoney's exit from Man Utd is a gigantic loss for English game

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Casey Stoney, Manager of Manchester United looks dejected after the Vitality Women's FA Cup 5th Round match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Leigh Sports Village on May 16, 2021 in Leigh, England. - GETTY IMAGES
Casey Stoney, Manager of Manchester United looks dejected after the Vitality Women's FA Cup 5th Round match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Leigh Sports Village on May 16, 2021 in Leigh, England. - GETTY IMAGES

Casey Stoney's departure from the Women's Super League is a gigantic loss for the English game and will leave a vast chasm for Manchester United to fill.

Any league in its growing phase needs big characters, and for the WSL, the former England captain brought a public persona that has aided the league's growth and perception immeasurably. That’s why her resignation - as we exclusively revealed last week - and expected move to a new role in the United States is a massive loss to the women's game.

Unafraid to voice an opinion, Stoney, who lost her final game 3-2 to Leicester, has played a significant role in boosting the exposure of the women's game in the media over the past two years. She has matched that with success on it, leading United to promotion from the Championship in 2019 and back-to-back fourth place finishes in the WSL.

Frequently displaying a sound, moral compass, she has spoken out against racism and gender inequality, and had the integrity to issue an apology promptly after sanctioning a trip to Dubai by some of her Manchester United players at Christmas, which others stayed silent despite approving similar trips.

Stoney is understood to have stepped down at United because of disappointment at the facilities available to her team with sources saying players have not had showers at their training site in recent months.

United are likely to come to regret it if they have not done absolutely everything in their power - their colossal, global power - to try and keep the former central defender, capped 130 times by England.

From a coaching perspective, she was nurturing a young group of players, most of whom had progressed together since the club reformed their senior women’s side in 2018. Stoney also introduced some inventive training sessions too, from the squad being put through early-morning boxing sessions, some dance classes and even obstacle courses in a bid to boost team spirit in their early days.

The fear is now that the squad will be broken up this summer with Stoney's exit. United States duo Tobin Heath and Christen Press are likely to return home, while young forward Lauren James is attracting interest from other teams. The club could face a sizeable rebuild job over the next 12 months.

For Stoney, a future in the States looks likely at either one of the new NWSL sides in Angel City, San Diego or existing outfit Portland Thorns - all of whom are believed to be interested.

That will be a worry for the Football Association, with many assuming Stoney was a likely strong candidate to succeed incoming England head coach Sarina Wiegman in the future, whenever that may be.

Manchester United manager Casey Stoney with Carrie Jones.  - REUTERS
Manchester United manager Casey Stoney with Carrie Jones. - REUTERS

The Holland coach takes charge of the Lionesses after the Olympics. With the FA seeking a temporary head coach for the Great Britain side for this summer’s Olympics after Phil Neville’s early departure, Stoney was initially among the names strongly linked with that role. Perhaps ironically now, she publicly ruled herself out because of her role with United.

At the time, there were also understood to have been some concerns in the league about the prospect of any WSL team’s existing manager leading Team GB, because the Games' coach has access to club-sensitive data such as medical and performance records. That’s not to say Stoney would have got the job - Norway legend Hege Riise was subsequently appointed after consultation with England players and glowing feedback - but nonetheless, GB fans may be left wondering what might have been.

In another setback for the FA, they are losing a coaching ambassador who has helped inspire others get their badges. Thankfully, there are many other female bosses doing this too - not least Chelsea manager Emma Hayes, Brighton’s former England head coach Hope Powell and Reading’s Kelly Chambers. But for a sport with such high growth targets, the more icons the better.

Stoney might well be departing these shores, but for the health of the wider future of the British game, neutrals will hope she returns soon.

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