Women's Team

Leadership at the core for Taylor’s title hopefuls

Leadership at the core for Taylor’s title hopefuls
'Teamwork makes the dream work.'

A motto shared by some of the world's greatest teams: the stoic belief that every single member of the team plays a role - no matter how small - in the quest to achieve collective success.

It is a value Head Coach Gareth Taylor has instilled within his players - that the needs of the team take precedence over all else; that everyone must be ready when called upon (in whatever circumstance) to aid the team when needed.

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As we enter 'the business end' of the 2020/21 women's football season, the time has come for one final push in the chase for silverware.

City stand three victories away from a second FA Women's Super League title, having exemplified the hallmarks of Champions on numerous occasions this season - winning emphatically, preserving clean sheets, grinding out victories, battling until the very end...

A mouth-watering, must-win clash against table-topping Chelsea marks the first of three 'Cup Finals' for Gareth Taylor's side - the toughest of challenges - but Champions never shy away from a challenge.

It is a time for the great ones to make their mark - and this season, such inspirational, motivational and exemplary qualities have shone through across the pitch.

Naturally, many look to the Club captain for guidance in challenging times. Steph Houghton is beloved for her leadership, selflessness and unwavering willingness to put the best interests of her team above her own – but for the past six weeks, while she has been unable to provide an influence on the pitch, she has been doing all she can off it to help the team.

Further evidence of the desire to play a role - any role - in aiding the squad, and the skipper has been grateful to have had so many others to rely upon in her absence. 

“I'm doing all I can to help the team in whatever way I can,” she explained.

“My role has been to have an influence in other ways, checking in on the girls, checking the mood in the camp.

“They know I'm there, even if I'm not on the pitch, as a person to lean on, give advice and be supportive.

“I’m striving to be the best supporter and captain I can be - the Club's biggest fan! As long as my team are winning, I'm happy.

“I wear the armband and I would say I’m a leader but naturally, I lean on other people too.

Ellen White has worn the armband over the last few games and she’s been unbelievable.

“Then we have the likes of Keira, Lucy, Alex, Sam, Abby, who all contribute in so many different ways – and they probably don’t even know they are.

“Within any team I’ve been part of – the national team or at Club level – it’s never always been about one person.

“That’s what’s so special about our team. We have a big squad for a reason – we all have different attributes – and it’s about utilizing them all at different points of the season.

“The girls have stepped up in various ways, scoring, defending well and leading by example. We have got the right balance as we’ve shown over the last few games with the victories we’ve had.”

True leaders exhibit role modelling behaviours, encouraging others to follow suit, driving the highest standards across the board.

City’s 2020 summer signings included two World Cup winners, two Champions League winners and one of the country’s brightest young talents – all of whom had already made a name for themselves but were determined to reach the next level of performance and help to grow the women’s game in this country.

Even before she arrived in Manchester, Lucy Bronze (The Best FIFA Women’s Player of the Year for 2020) proved an inspiration to her new teammates.

Upon her signing, Aoife Mannion – an ‘unsung hero’ herself, according to her teammates – revealed that part of her motivation for her ACL recovery was driven by Bronze, as Mannion challenged herself to reach a stage where she could ‘compete physically’ with the European Champion.

“I really look up to Lucy Bronze,” she declared. “It’s been really eye-opening and enjoyable to be around her, seeing how she does things and listening to her views on things.

“She’s an elite person and player and she’s really rubbing off on all of the players on the team, and there are a few players I could say that about.

“There are a lot of natural leaders and players with incredible experience. What’s particularly encouraging is that some players are not necessarily vocal but the way they go about things – and the level of consistency in their performance – really sets a tone.

“That’s something that will definitely benefit us as a team.”

WATCH: Meeting the boss! Gareth Taylor's fan surprise

Several members of the squad have played on the biggest stages in the world’s most prestigious competitions and under the most high-pressure situations.

United States star and World Cup winner Sam Mewis holds such experience but – hailed as a natural leader herself and a major influence in the squad in her debut campaign – even she has been impressed with the variety of leadership roles within the squad.

"Leadership really is just a lot of people working together to make the team function as best it can,” she stated.

"Different leaders can express that in different ways. There are definitely vocal leaders on the field, who give direction, there are players who lead by example and just do the work and put their head down every day, and there are organisational leaders. who are making sure everything's firing on all cylinders all the time.

"I think that leadership is really at this team's core - it's about putting the team first and doing whatever is necessary to help the team succeed.

"It means a lot to me to hear that that some players have said that they feel I'm a natural leader. I think that depending on what the team needs, it brings it out in you. There have been days where I've had to be a vocal leader and days where I've had to organise and things like that.

"I just really feel like I'm learning from the players around me and really just kind of adapting to whatever the team needs. The girls really have a good direction of how we want this team to operate and the staff too, obviously.

"Obviously, Steph Houghton. She has so much experience being captain and she really knows what that role entails and does that job really well.

"I think that Lucy Bronze is a leader because we all admire her and look to her when things get tough to see how she reacts and see what she wants us to do.

"Keira Walsh is a leader in her own way too. Her standard is so high for the game that I think we all want Keira's blessing a little bit. We all like really want to play with her and make her happy, and I just think that the way she carries herself and her expectations for the team are a focal point."

WATCH: Cityzens Press Conference: Fans quiz Sam Mewis

Walsh may have only turned 24 this month – but the midfield engine and lifelong Blue – has long been tipped for captaincy in the future: for Club and country.

She was equally complimentary of Mewis’ qualities (and others), asserting honesty and openness have been key in ensuring the development of the squad.

“Of course, Steph is the leader of the team and has been for a long time but it’s been nice for her – and all of us – to have more players in, who are natural leaders,” she said.

Lucy Bronze and Sam Mewis in particular are natural leaders and they’re definitely players I look up to.

“Playing in midfield with Sam, you can see she’s a big influence. She’s a calming influence but she also drives the standard and gets the team going when needed.

“In previous years, I think we’ve missed that a little bit but she’s been one of the biggest influences this season and you can see that in games with the way she drives the team.

“It’s something the new players have brought in too: that desire to drive the standards across the board.

“I pride myself on high standards and that’s something I’ve spoken with my managers about throughout my career: trying to drive those high standards on the pitch.

“I’m probably a little different to some of the other players. They tend to focus on the positives, whereas if something needs to be said, I’m more than happy to be the one to say it.

“I am quite vocal anyway – I never had problem telling people if something was not up to standard.

“At times in the past, when we’ve not been good enough, we’ve perhaps been a little bit soft with each other by not saying things and nipping things in the bud.

“Now, we’re all on the same page as a team and we recognise that sometimes, we need to have those difficult conversations – but in the right way.”

Tests do not come much tougher than Wednesday's crunch clash but in the knowledge a victory would put us in pole position for the league crown, it is time for our leaders to shine...

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