Marc Skinner full of 'fire' after Man Utd end rollercoaster season on record defeat

  • Man Utd lost 6-0 to Chelsea at Old Trafford on final day of WSL season
  • Ends a poor league campaign for the Red Devils in which they also won the FA Cup
  • Marc Skinner spoke about his burning desire to make the club compete again
Marc Skinner is already thinking ahead to what Man Utd must do in 2024/25
Marc Skinner is already thinking ahead to what Man Utd must do in 2024/25 / Chloe Knott - Danehouse/GettyImages

A week is a long time in football, and Manchester United went from the highs of lifting the Women's FA Cup at Wembley to then suffering their biggest ever defeat as Chelsea secured the WSL title at Old Trafford in the space of just six days.

The 2023/24 campaign has been tough to quantify for United. The search for major silverware had eluded them until their day in the (literal) sun last weekend, when a 4-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur delivered that sweet first taste of success at this level.

Winning a trophy like that is what has driven the club since day one in 2018. But it has been cut with the disappointment of a WSL season that has seen them slip away from the heights of a year ago when a domestic league and cup double was within agonising reach.

Ultimately, United have finished 21 points worse off in the WSL this time around compared to 12 months ago. They have won eight fewer league games, lost five more, taken only a point from a possible 18 against the established 'big three', conceded nearly three times as many goals and found the net 14 times less often. Even in defeats, United have usually performed well in patches or smaller moments, but consistency is the biggest drop-off, seemingly losing that steely focus that had driven them to one of the WSL's all-time biggest points tallies last term.

United were never really able to kick on from that, having to effectively build again last summer.

The departure of two key players hurt them, with significant turnover in the wider squad and nine new arrivals. Almost all of the new outfield signings have suffered injury or fitness problems at one time or another - on top of typical settling in, while influential assistant coach Martin Ho left in June and initially wasn't replaced for several months. Other staffing changes, notably physio Ibrahim Kerem moving over to the men’s squad, haven't helped forge a continuity either, while head of women's football Polly Bancroft now steps down without a permanent replacement lined up. So far, the new INEOS contingent are yet to properly sink their teeth into tackling the issues that will make United consistently competitive, having seen their partial takeover ratified in February.

There is a lot to work on, something Marc Skinner didn't shy away from acknowledging in his final post-match press conference of the season after the Chelsea game, for which Sir Dave Brailsford and incoming chief executive Omar Berrada were both present in Old Trafford’s director's box. They aren't going to rip it up to start afresh, opting for evolution over revolution.

To that end, Skinner has been awarded a new contract, announced 24 hours before Saturday's heavy defeat. It is not, as he pointed out afterwards, a kneejerk response to winning the FA Cup. Even with United struggling to replicate 2022/23's league form, the focus was on a bigger picture and talks had been ongoing for some time. The deal had been agreed "for a while" prior to going public.

Man Utd were humbled by Chelsea at Old Trafford
Man Utd were humbled by Chelsea at Old Trafford / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/GettyImages

"Time" is the main thing Skinner is asking for. Time to catch-up, time to find consistency.

"I need to go away and reflect on what we need to do as a team," he said as summer hits. "I need to work with the club to make sure we know those areas. I've known for a while where we fall short, but there's also a time that you need to be able to develop those areas."

There is also a defiance and a "fire" in him, spurred on by the nature of being thrashed so convincingly by a club United aspire to be competing on a level with.

"There will be players in that dressing room that, like me, have fire from situations like this, they don't run and hide from it," Skinner said. "Those are the players that we need to continue to work towards success with Manchester United. When you take losses, then you have to stand up, because sport is about resilience. It's about learning and pushing forwards, not just giving up because it's not what you want. My psyche will never be that and our players will never be that."

To have Chelsea enjoy that success right under his nose will serve as direct inspiration too, with Skinner making a point of watching on for several minutes as Emma Hayes and her players revelled in the ultimate delight in a corner of the Old Trafford pitch.

"We are a team that is chasing those successes," he said "You've got to face them when you lose 6-0 at home. I'm the one that faces it and I always will. It's important that we as a collective keep making strides towards being where Chelsea are. I think sometimes you have to visualise where they are. We've got to find some way, and I've got to exhaust myself, to bridge as many gaps to get as close as we possibly can. But I believe in myself to be able to do that and believe in this team and this club to put us in the place where we want to be."

For now, there are four long months until the 2024/25 WSL season begins in September. But the talking will have to be done on the pitch soon enough.