New Orlando Pride head coach Marc Skinner met with the media for a roundtable discussion today and discussed a number of topics, including his philosophies, his transition from Birmingham City to the NWSL, how he worked behind the scenes during the NWSL College Draft, and much more.
Here is what the new gaffer had to say:
On when he finally arrived in Orlando:
I got in yesterday, so I arrived at the hotel. I actually got to sleep. I woke up with the worst headache today because I probably had more sleep than I’m used to. But now it’s down to business. I’m here for five days, doing a little bit of scouting around the area so I know things for when I come over (permanently). As soon as visas are sorted and so on I’ll be back over to do it fully.
On how his hiring to lead the Pride came to pass:
We’d had contact prior to Christmas. I think it solidified towards near the start of January. And at that point I was obviously still with my club team in England and once the decision was made it was pretty swift. As soon as the decisions and the contracts were signed — which was going back and forth probably about seven to 10 days. I made my decision, handed in my resignation, and here I am. I just couldn’t turn down this opportunity. It’s such a great opportunity with such an up-and-coming team that could do great, great things.
On whether he’s had time to reach out to his players yet:
We’ve had initial contact. So, I always send the players an email with a questionnaire. The questions on there are just about them, very, very simple. Because I need to know what they’re like as people first and foremost before (learning how) they are as players. They’ve got until the 31st of January to reply to me. I’ve had quite a few back already. And that allows me to read things about them before I meet them as footballers. I can’t judge what they’ve done on the field — I can see what they’ve done but I can’t judge it because what Tom would have asked them to do is different to what I will ask them to do. So, we’ve had that initial contact. And then before we start, have a one-to-one meeting with every single player. And that then, it’s not that initial meeting where we don’t know each other. I’ll have a little bit of background on them. They’ll have a bit of background on me. So it allows us to flow into conversation very quickly.
On his overview of the club:
One of the words that’s mentioned quite frequently — because I’ve just been around the offices upstairs — is that family orientation. So the family basis, the connection to the fans, how important they are to what we do. Because, and I’ll stress this: without them, we are nothing. We don’t exist. To play in that beautiful stadium empty every week would not be worth it. So I think that family orientation. Everybody’s important. Everybody’s a key part to what happens. It doesn’t matter what your role is. I think that’s really important because we have some of the world’s best talent, but everybody plays their part and I’ve got to make sure I connect to all of that. That’s my job, because everybody’s important. So, it was that that really drew me. Just being around the people upstairs and the back team staff, I’m even more excited than I was when I kind of just knew it was just the job. Because you work for these people too and everybody’s equally important.
On whether he can guide the Pride into the playoffs:
That’s my job, isn’t it? You’ll get to know me. I’m very, very accountable for my job. I’m not saying when I’m coming in it’s going to be easy to get the team to playoffs consistently and so on — I’m not saying that at all. It’s very tough. There are some exceptional teams in this league with exceptional managers and exceptional players. My job is to work every day to do that. When I first went into Birmingham, they were an underdog team, so they were successful but they needed the underdog status. They needed to have somebody say, ‘you’re not good enough, it’s us versus them.’ Where I took that off them. I said, ‘look, you want pressure situations so you have to be able to deal with them psychologically. So I’m going to make sure that this group are prepared to deal with the ideas of success.’ All these players are successful in their own rights and last but one season, they were in the playoffs. So it’s my job not just to be a flash in the pan, and I don’t just want to come here and go ‘right, let’s have a smash, there we go,’ and then it finishes a season later. It’s about consistency. I’ve got to build a foundation and that’s what I’m going to aim to do.
On whether he’s reached out to Tom Sermanni to discuss the team:
I’ll speak to Tom once I’m settled in. He’s been great, I know. You all know how personable Tom is and what a good guy he is. I’m hopeful that once I’ve settled in and spoken to all the players, I’ve got my own ideas, I can then rub ideas with him as well.
On working with Pride GM Erik Ustruck:
Almost like we’ve known each other for the most time. Erik’s so personable — and again I’d like to thank him for the opportunity to be here, because I think we can do wonderful things. With his guidance and his help and support, and obviously the club’s support, I think we can create something special. That’s the aim, anyway.
On his familiarity with the league and the Orlando Pride:
I think there’s a mixed response on that because you can watch games but there’s also the feeling side of the game. What’s it like on the raw emotion from the side. In England I quite liked to sit high on the side to see the game tactically. Whether you can or can’t do that with the connection with the fans is something I’ve got to experience when I’m here. Having watched it, it’s the best, most intense, physical league in the world, in my opinion, for women’s football. For me, I’ve got to look at ways in which we can control that physical battle to ensure we have a way of playing around that. I’ve watched near enough all of the games that Orlando played but I’ve got to do so much more work than that. I’ve got to be watching all the other teams as well.
On reaching out to Utah Royals coach Laura Harvey:
She’s been brilliant. So Laura and my partner Laura are from the same village. So she was back prior to Christmas and we were having a conversation just about the league and so on, and she’s reached out and she’s helped me. She’ll help me with just the little things that you don’t really know about…which obviously the guys here will help me with anyway. And she’s talked about the league. I know she’s tried to adapt a slightly different style than what’s already been tried in the U.S. It’s just those little insights I think are really, really valuable and I’m going to listen to as many of those as I can because they’re maybe the little golden nuggets that I need to be aware of.
On his coaching philosophy and style, and whether or not he has a preferred shape for the team:
I’m going to make bold statements here but I think people rely on shapes too much and I think they think that’s the be-all and end-all. For me, it’s about having a series of principles and foundations that players can play from, so that when they’re in a situation they can make an effective decision. If you ask a coach what’s one of the most sellable factors of a player, it’s that they make the correct decisions. So, for me, I have to work on the decision-making process and that’s habitual work in training. So that takes a little bit longer, but with that, I want them to do that so they have the ability to adapt to shape within the game. So if I said to them, ‘play three at the back now for the next 15 minutes’ — and I’m a big, big fan of people like Maurizio Sarri and Pep Guardiola and they adapt within the game to the needs of the game. I think if you look at it through a different lens, you learn to control the spaces on the field rather than the players on the field and that’s how I look at it. If we were to sort of talk about what would success look like for me, can my players, with the simplest of instructions, adapt the shape to be effective on the field. So that’s the shape that I’d go with, whether we need two at the back, one at the back, three at the back, if we’re chasing, if we’re controlling counter-attacks. If we can do that, then I will have been effective at my job.
On the fact that a good chunk of the team will be missing for the World Cup and whether he’s already started preparing for that:
There are some things that we’re looking at and discussing, and that’s why coaching is so, so important. So, I’m not just here to coach a shape and put it on the field. I’m here to effect people and effect players and make them better, regardless of their stature within the game. We have a shortfall of players if all are selected, hopefully, for the World Cup. My job is to make sure that the (players) that are holding the fort while they’re out are already playing and improving, and if I can do that, we’ll be fine in that short period that we won’t have them for. But in the meantime, we are looking at different strategies.
On naming his assistant coaches on the staff:
For reasons that are out of our control at the minute, we can’t name who they are but they are already identified, contracts have already been signed, so they’ll be in and working. So you’ll know in due course who that is. Just for other reasons I can’t tell you who that is at the moment. But yeah, that’s all in place and we’re ready to go.
On whether missing his international players will be his biggest coaching challenge in 2019:
That will definitely be one of them. There’s going to be so, so many challenges — adapting to the style of play, adapting to the league and the way that we want to play, personalities, conversations. There’s so many challenges but I think if you take them all at once, it would be silly. So we have to break them down individually. But we’ll have plenty of players ready if there is a shortfall within that window. But again, a lot of things can happen between now and that period. Having a partner that’s played in the World Cup, I know how important it is for people to do that. I’ve just got to make sure we’re going to have to look after the club and I’ll do that as I see fit based on the information I receive over the next couple of months.
On his main attribute in landing the Orlando Pride job:
Do you know what I think it was? We literally had to do everything. We’re a club with a budget that was quite low compared to some of the competitors we had and we had to build a competitive team. I’ve done everything with the club so I think I’ve worked from the ground up, and there are some amazing people at Birmingham. And it feels like there are some amazing people here, so that’s going to be a good transition for me. So, I think that my grounding and my background at what we had to achieve and what we did achieve — although we didn’t win anything (trophy-wise), which is something I would have liked to have seen out of the project, but when this opportunity came, I just couldn’t turn it down. I think that we can create something special and that’s what I’ve got to try and do.
On the Pride hiring a general manager in Ustruck and what it means:
I think it shows the progressive nature of soccer in America as well, but Orlando especially. Just seeing the intentions upstairs to make this a special place and make it a hub of football goes a long, long way. And I think my experience prior to understanding a general manager role — because I think in England, it’s slightly different of an experience. I would usually negotiate contracts with players, lengths and that, so I’ve done all of that work. Erik will take that part off me so I can concentrate solely on getting a good team on the field. So it’s a testament to Orlando just the resource they’re putting into making a successful team.
On his role with the Pride on draft day:
I was sitting on the sidelines but the players that were selected were my players. I selected them. If you noticed they’re on the phone…I’m on the phone. I’m the one on the other end. I’m watching it live on YouTube through our TV. So I was part of everything. I made the decisions. And then the two girls we selected, Erin (Greening) and Marisa (Viggiano), I see them for the qualities they have that people potentially overlook because of the nature of the league — because they’re that ingrained in what the league does but I’ve got a fresh set of eyes on the league and that’s where I selected those players. And I’m sure with work we can really make them ready for this league.
On whether his identifying talent where others might not see it is something he’s done through his career:
We had to. Before my time as first team manager at Birmingham…what I ended up doing was identifying players, and there’s no bigger satisfaction than bringing players through and growing with you and the club because that’s the identity that the club wants. And I suppose it’s the same for like the draft system even though you get them a little bit older, because you took the chance on them. They become part of your club and they’re ingrained in the fabric of your club, and there’s so much benefit to that. I look at them differently because of the way I want to play, potentially, but I still see the value in everything that the players already here have and now it’s just about adaptation. The biggest skill set that I’ll use is adaptation. For me, the players will have to adapt to be the best players going forward.