Casey Stoney has never been to San Diego. The new NWSL team there does not even have a name yet. But when two-time World Cup-winning coach Jill Ellis is the president and she makes the phone call, then you listen. Stoney has agreed to be their first head coach.
“I knew the ambition and I knew what they were trying to build there, starting from scratch,” Stoney tells Sky Sports. “It was an opportunity to put my stamp on something, build something with Jill at the helm. An opportunity that I could not turn down.
“Obviously, the weather is a bonus.”
In that respect, San Diego’s reputation is a little different to Manchester, but for the former Manchester United coach, the job description is similar. Stoney helped launch that team in 2018, immediately winning promotion before twice finishing fourth in the top division.
With San Diego not joining the expanded NWSL until next year, the big difference here is time. “I did it in four weeks in Manchester, we have a little bit longer here. I had a very, very steep learning curve at Manchester United that I think will hold me in good stead.”
Stoney does not wish to dwell on her United exit and is keen to stress that there was a gap between leaving there and accepting this role. But it is fair to say it was a challenge, with reports that the team’s training arrangements were not all that they could be.
That will not be a problem in San Diego.
“There are going to be world-class facilities,” says Stoney. There will be support too, not only in the form of Ellis but also Molly Downtain, the general manager who will help to “make sure we get the right players and the right staff” in place.
That whole process will be new to Stoney.
“There are so many different nuances to how you can recruit over there in terms of the wage caps, expansion drafts, college drafts. But this is an opportunity for me to learn about that and I have good people around me who I can lean on.
“It is a massive step. I am going to a league that is different, a culture that is different, and really testing myself. The WSL, I know it like the back of my hand because I have played in it and worked in it for so many years. Going to the NWSL is going to challenge me.”
Away from the pitch, it will be an adventure for the whole family. Stoney will be moving to California with her partner Megan and their three children, but is keen to have everything in place, a new home and new schools, before the children make this life-changing move.
“It is going to be an incredible experience for them,” she says.
“They are at the right age, they are adaptable. I genuinely think they will learn a lot from the mentality of the people in the United States because my experience of working with and playing against people from America, they have an unbelievably positive mentality.”
Son Teddy is a football fan, although it was Harry Maguire’s quarter-final goal at Euro 2020 rather than his mother’s 130 England caps that inspired him. “He has been to my games when I was a manager but he really connected with the men during the Euros,” she says.
“He has been absolutely obsessed off the back of that. It just shows that it takes that visibility, that moment, that little hook. That is why major tournaments are so important to the women’s game because that platform, that visibility, you can’t beat it.
“I desperately felt that in 2012 [at the London Olympics]. That is why when we went out to Canada in Coventry and everyone else went back to the Olympic Village, I literally had to go away for two weeks because I could not pick myself up off the floor.
“I just knew that if we could medal, if we could be successful, more people watch you and the bigger the platform you have. It is a huge opportunity for women’s football to capitalise. That is why I was bitterly disappointed that Team GB did not medal this year.”
There are further opportunities for women’s football coming up with England hosting Euro 2022 next year. “The opening game is at Old Trafford, what a platform that is.” Prior to that, there is a new television deal for the WSL that is expected to be a catalyst for growth.
“I think that is huge. It is a watershed moment for the women’s game because you know that Sky are going to give it an unbelievable brand and platform. Meanwhile, BBC is terrestrial television so everyone in the country is going to have access to it for free.”
Stoney is leaving all that behind, of course. Her journey will continue across the Atlantic where Ellis is already talking of the team in San Diego being “fiercely competitive right from the beginning”. It is a chance for this English coach to help build something special.
“We want to make sure we can grow something sustainable that will bring global success not just success in the United States,” she explains. “I want to be one of the best coaches that I can possibly be. This is another opportunity to stretch myself.”
Casey Stoney is asking parents to sign-up to McDonald’s Fun Football sessions, FREE for children aged 5-11 at more than 350 centres UK wide. Find your nearest centre at: www.mcdonalds.co.uk/football