Women's Team

Georgia Stanway: Unsung Hero

Georgia Stanway: Unsung Hero
A look at the crucial, and varied, contribution that the young midfielder makes to Gareth Taylor's side.

“I remember playing the best I’ve ever played, I absolutely killed it at right back! I was thinking ‘oh god, this isn’t going to do me any favours here!’”

Georgia Stanway vividly recalls her first defensive display for City, and does so with a typical spring in her step.

“I think it was the second half when we were playing Sheffield United. We were already winning by a few goals at half time and they were like: ‘right we’ll give Georgia a shot there’.

“I remember me and a few of the girls laughing and thinking ‘oh god, I’m playing right back here!”

“But I quite enjoyed the challenge. I enjoyed the fact that, when you’re a forward you kind of don’t really know what the back four are doing so I kind of liked that excuse, I liked putting pressure on the forwards this time.”

The old adage reads that ‘diamonds are formed under pressure’ and, rather than shy away from a challenge, Stanway is the type to knuckle down and give her all for the collective.

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Predominantly an attacking midfielder, the England international has been deployed in multiple positions across this season, whether it be as a centre forward or in the backline, and has excelled in every single one.

Characters of this ilk are like gold dust to a manager, especially when a busy fixture schedule leads to the inevitable toll of fatigue and injuries; just two of the dilemmas that present themselves to any team competing on multiple fronts.

Make no mistake, Gareth Taylor’s side have demonstrated that we are capable of tackling that obstacle, progressing to the last eight of the Champions League for the first time in three years while simultaneously keeping pace in an intriguing WSL title race.

But with injuries to Demi Stokes, Megan Campbell, Alex Greenwood and captain Steph Houghton to name a few, City’s backline was hit particularly hard by the rigours of our European and domestic ambitions.

Nonetheless, it’s clear to see that, while it may be an unorthodox position for her, Stanway’s teammates trusted her implicitly to step into the breach.

“When you know you have someone in the squad who you can rely on to play in multiple positions, it takes the stress off the team and obviously takes the stress off Gaz (Taylor),” midfielder Keira Walsh reflects.

“No matter what position Georgia plays in she never sulks, she’ll always do the job for the team.

“I think she probably is the unsung hero of the team this season, I think she’s filled in whenever she’s needed to, she’s done a great job.

“When Lucy (Bronze) isn’t playing it’s a massive miss but I don’t think anyone in the game thinks she isn’t a right back, she fits in so well and plays so well when she’s been there.”

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And from the manager’s perspective, a player of Stanway’s versatility makes his life a lot easier when faced with various injuries across the squad.

For Taylor, the midfielder’s footballing intelligence is a crucial component in ensuring that she can slot seamlessly into any role she might be required to undertake.

He said: “This is what you’re looking for in a team player, someone who’s able to adapt, able to go in and not look out of place in any of those positions.

“I think this season she’s played in the eight position, the front three and at full-back as well.

“When you have a player able to do that it’s a real boost for the team and the group.

“The fact she’s able to adapt and play in different positions for us is something a coach really wants.”

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While Stanway openly admits she is far from the finished article, her selfless value of the collective over the individual is one of her many major qualities which belies her young age.

At just 22, she is unquestionably still learning her craft, but admits that operating in a number of positions has actually benefited her overall game, especially in an attacking sense.

“As a right back there were places on the pitch that I didn’t want to go,” she reveals.

“So I knew that as a forward, I wanted to take the defender into areas that they didn’t want to go in, whether that’s dropping short and playing as a false nine or running in behind and making them turn and run back to their goal.

“There were different areas which I didn’t enjoy as a right back, so I wanted to put that pressure on the defenders when I got the opportunity.”

Walsh echoes her teammate’s sentiments, insisting that having someone of Georgia’s calibre alongside her in the midfield is a massive bonus.

In particular, she highlighted Stanway’s understanding of the game, as well as her unique blend of silk and steel; essential skills to have in any combative midfielder's repertoire.

“She makes my life a lot easier. I know if I give the ball away she’s always going to be there and trying to win it back for me.

“Equally she’s in the right positions (going forward), she’s on the half turn when I pass the ball and she’s always looking to play forward and create something.

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“Sometimes this season we’ve probably tried to keep possession a little bit too much but I know with Georgia she’s going to be thinking forward and thinking goals.

“I enjoy playing with her and I hope she feels the same about me to be fair, let me know what she says!

“To switch that brain on to being in the opposition’s box rather than our own… it’s a credit to her and has probably been good for her development as well.

“You can see how good she is in all the positions that I think she will only get better as she gets older.”

Multifaceted players in Georgia's mould are a boon to any side, easing the burden on tired legs whilst also providing scope for experimentation and adaptation in equal measure if necessary.

Nonetheless, this blessing for the collective has the potential to become a curse for the individual, especially in a squad like City's, which oozes genuine quality from one to eleven.

As a former professional footballer himself, Taylor can empathise better than most with Stanway’s potential frustrations.

At the same time, however, her conscientious nature is something that the City boss can’t speak highly enough of.

“She always tackles it head on, very much so,” Taylor admits.

“Maybe inside there might be an annoyance for her but she certainly doesn’t display that, she’s very professional in that respect.

"She’s happy to do a job for the team.”

Although she maintains a positive outlook, and will always give her all for the team, Stanway does confess that fighting for multiple roles in the squad can be a taxing commitment.

But rather than seeing this as something out of her control, the midfielder speaks of approaching the challenge with a typical defiance and tenacity.

“Sometimes it’s quite difficult because you don’t know whether you’re coming or going,” the England international concedes.

“I want to be consistently playing and consistently fighting for a spot but it’s difficult when you’re fighting for potentially six spots on the pitch.

“In the long run I’d like to knuckle down on a position and be able to fight for that spot and potentially stay there for long term.

“But in the meantime, I’ll do my best on the pitch wherever that’ll be.”

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It’s clear from the 22-year-old’s candid response that City possess a player who, irrespective of her burgeoning reputation as an individual player, is willing to set aside her own personal aspirations for the benefit of those around her.

And from the way she talks about those she steps across the white line alongside, it’s clear to see why that often thankless task gravitates so naturally towards her.

“They’ve been massively important in where I’ve got to today and without them I wouldn’t be in this position,” she responds when asked about the importance of her teammates.

“Credit to them for supporting me wherever I am, even if I’m on the bench or even through difficult times.

“They’ve always got my back, supporting me and keeping my confidence high.”

High praise indeed, and those sentiments are reciprocated in equal measure from her close friend, Walsh.

“For a lot of players it’d be hard mentally to keep switching positions and not know where you’re going to be playing each week (but) she just gets on with it,” she says.

“Even in training she’s always the one working hard, putting the tackles in.

“In that sense she’s so reliable that she’s always going to put the effort in for the team.

"Her mentality and her mental strength is incredible.

“She puts in the graft and I don’t think she actually gets enough credit for how intelligent she is.”

Whether as an attacking midfielder, a right back or as a number nine, Georgia Stanway's enthusiasm, determination and ability allows her to transcend even the loftiest of expectations placed upon her young shoulders.

She is an unsung hero in all but name, and fully deserving of all the plaudits that should ever come her way.

At just 22, that praise is unlikely to dry up any time soon.

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