City’s longest-serving women’s team player Abbie McManus stands on the brink of an incredible personal accomplishment.
The 26-year-old, who represented our Ladies team before the Club relaunched as a professional side in 2014, has embarked on a remarkable journey from amateur football to top-flight success – a journey that escalated rapidly.
Having witnessed first-hand the extraordinary transformation of the Club from Super League newcomers to title winners and Champions League semi-finalists, McManus now finds herself as an established England international in contention for a place in the Lionesses’ 2019 World Cup squad.
The story has the making of a fairytale but as so often is the case, the adventure wasn’t all plain sailing, as the defender had once been told she wouldn’t make it at the Academy Stadium. Now an England regular, since earning her first senior call-up in February 2018, McManus’ career is a world away from her training days in Wythenshawe Park, fuelled by chocolate bars and Lucozade!
Should she make the Lionesses squad, she would partake in her first major international tournament. Although she did attend the 2017 European Championships in the Netherlands, she did so as a fan; not a player, amusingly spotted in the stands with an England flag in support of former City player and close friend Toni Duggan.
This summer, she may well have adoring fans of her own occupying the stands in France – and needless to say, the prospect thrills her.
“I can’t wait,” she smiled. “The squad selection will be announced in May and everybody will be sat, waiting by their phones for the email.
“In the past, May has been the beginning of the holiday season for me, while everyone else went on camp – but I would happily give that up if I was selected! Going to France would be the best trip ever.
“It’s been a whirlwind. I’d never had a call-up before Phil Neville was appointed as manager but I was picked in his first training camp and I’ve had quite a lot of minutes since. I was thrown in the deep end, stepping in when other players had been injured, but I hope Phil has seen that I’ve taken my chances.
“He gives me a lot of confidence and tells me what I’m good at and what I need to improve on. We have a good working relationship and I’ve enjoyed every minute but now I have to keep pushing. I want to be at the World Cup but I don’t just want to attend – I want to play and I want to win it and I truly feel we can.
“After our performance at the SheBelieves Cup, we stand a great chance. We were gutted to lose here at the Academy Stadium in the friendly against Canada but we’re on a journey and we’re going to get better and better.
“I’m so excited about the prospect of being selected and I’ll try my best to be, but if I don’t get picked, I’ll still be going out to watch the girls.”
Despite her success, the spotlight rarely shines on McManus – a reserved character, who lets her football do the talking.
The defender admits she prefers life out of the limelight however, and is motivated by match minutes and the yearning to better herself.
“I don’t really want to be the ‘poster girl’ or anything like that,” she continued. “As long as I come off the pitch and my manager is happy with my performance, that’s all that matters to me.
“I always say that my international story is a bit weird. I’m considered an old debutant, although I’m only 26, because I didn’t make my way through the age groups the way others have.
“In truth, was shutting my eyes to the prospect of international football but I’m so glad I didn’t give up… I carried on going and I made it.
“Everybody has a different story. Whatever has been thrown at me, I knew I would come out on top. I was so determined and I had a group of family and friends behind me, who have always pushed me to be the best I can be.
“I still think there’s more to come – I’m not where I want to be yet. Just because I’ve been in the England set-up for a year doesn’t mean I think I’ve made it. I still get nervous for camp selections. It’s nerve-wracking but I feel ready.”
Driven by the desire to demonstrate her ability, McManus has worked hard to fight for her place. Regular minutes for Club and country have been her reward. However, remaining humble, she asserts her pride is not powered by the wish to prove anyone wrong; but instead, to prove herself right.
“It’s definitely not a case of: ‘this one’s for the haters!’,” she joked. “It’s something I’ve worked towards for me and my family.
“Looking back, I still have to pinch myself at what I’ve achieved in a short space of time. Five years ago, I was training in a park in Wythenshawe and my dad would give me a Mars and Snickers bar and a bottle of Lucozade before a game!
“Needless to say, there were no nutrionists and the park pitch had holes in! It wasn’t the best…
“When the Club relaunched, there was more training at a higher intensity in better facilities; the standard was higher and you had to behave more professionally.
“For me, football turned from a hobby into an actual career and I’d say that’s what I struggled with the most – more than the change for the actual football. Instead, it was the switch of mindset from: having a kickabout with friends to playing to win trophies, having your name everywhere.”
As the clock ticks down to May, the anticipation intensifies for McManus and her Lionesses teammates – some of whom she is very familiar with.
The 26-year-old competes for the defensive spots with captain Steph Houghton and Gemma Bonner, and Scotland international Jen Beattie, occupying the right-back role for her Club and preferred centre-back position for her country.
Competing for positions with friends and colleagues can be challenging but McManus insists the squad dynamic does not change, even as the pressure increases, with teammates simply hoping for the best for each other.
“It’s interesting, vying for the same positions as your friends and teammates, but it’s a competitive sport and we’re all competitive people. Otherwise, we wouldn’t play!” she added.
“We’re all professional and we all get on, having a laugh and plenty of banter. There’s certainly no bitterness – if there was, I certainly wouldn’t enjoy it.
“We’re a team and come the end of the season, everyone gets a medal and rightly so – everyone contributes so everyone deserves it.
“I’m focused on improvement and although I have fierce competition with the likes of Steph, Jen and Gemma, I want to fight for that spot.
“Personally, I see myself more of a centre-half than a right-back. I want to nick that spot and push on but I’m just happy to be playing.
“I feel I’ve thrived on facing the world’s best players over the past few years. I had messages after the SheBelieves Cup, saying I’d ‘had Alex Morgan in my back pocket’ and that gives you confidence.
“I don’t fear anyone – I love playing against the best players and to be able to prevent them from scoring is a great feeling.
“It means we’re doing our job at the back and it’s really encouraging to have played well against them but at the end of the day, it’s up to the manager who makes the team he thinks will win each game. All we can do as players is go out and give our best.
“It’s a really exciting time for women’s football in England. We have three massive years ahead now with the World Cup and the Olympics. Who knows what will happen?
“I for one, will be striving to be at every single one. For now, my focus is on finishing the season as strongly as I can and then come May, I’ll be sat waiting for that email!
“One thing’s for certain: this year, I won’t be entering that period winding down for holiday mode. I will be raring to go and I can’t wait for it.”
City complete our 2018/19 home campaign on Sunday 28 April with the visit of Yeovil to the Academy Stadium at 2pm BST in our penultimate FA WSL game.
Tickets are available via the Ticket Office or City Ticketing website.