Kirsty Hanson has credited the lasting legacy of former Manchester United manager Casey Stoney for nurturing the famously tight-knit bonds within the squad that continue to benefit the club.
United sit top of the WSL on goal difference ahead of reigning champions Chelsea and have a five-point cushion over fourth place Manchester City as they seek to finally break up the league’s established top three and qualify for the Champions League for the first time.
It is a journey that is four and a half years in the making, beginning in 2018 when United at last took the decision to reform a senior women’s team after disbanding the previous incarnation in 2005.
The closeness that exists between the players is a major part of the on-field success being overseen by current boss Marc Skinner. Nikita Parris, who arrived after more than 10 years as a first-team player at other clubs, called it a ‘sisterhood’ and said she has never experienced it anywhere else.
For Hanson, who remains under contract at United until 2024 but is currently on loan at Aston Villa after struggling to get game time last season, the seeds were sewn by Stoney in 2018.
“Casey Stoney was an amazing manager,” Hanson told the When Sunday Comes podcast. “She cared about every single one of us and the staff, and she knew who was a good person and a good player.
“She didn’t want any horrible people in the dressing room, so she picked wisely and had done a lot of research before she became manager, picking good players she knew she could work with and improve.”
Hanson went on to explain that Stoney’s work as manager in that sense went beyond the training ground or matchdays, putting a lot of effort into the people side of things – that was particularly crucial given that she initially needed to gel together a squad built completely from scratch.
Those principles later helped smooth the arrival of new players and integrate them. And given that plenty who played under Stoney still remain, what she put in place back then also lives on.
“She worked very hard on doing a lot of team bonding,” Hanson said of her old boss.
“We did that almost every month – it was so fun. Even though it was a football club, that part in the first season was something special. We had fun every single day. Casey absolutely worked hard on what we needed to do to get the best out of us on the pitch and it definitely paid off.
“A lot of us left still in the Manchester United team know what it’s like to make sure we’re always professional but also have fun and keep bonding as a team.
“Throughout the years, there were new players coming in, so we knew how to integrate them straightaway. I think that is what’s really helping them as a team still. They are all winners – they all want to win games and trophies. Whoever comes in, we are all so welcoming and just want [new players] to integrate and be part of the team straightaway. They are like one big family and the nicest people every who look after each other on and off the pitch.”
Hanson explained that Stoney’s personal touch in player management was particularly good.
“You don’t get many Casey Stoneys in the world,” the Scotland winger said. “She understood us and wanted to know about us straightaway when she met us.
“She used to get the analysis guy to make me motivational videos and send them to me before games. She knows I like music and I’m a visual learner, so watching what I’m good at and then putting into a game. She still messages me now every so often, just checking how I am. I think that shows she still cares and will still message every player she used to coach.
“I think it showed, when she left, how gutted we all were and she is definitely missed and is already doing great things at her new club.”
Find out where you can listen to the full When Sunday Comes podcast with Kirsty Hanson here.