Ella Toone: How the Man United star is redefining her position

Ella Toone at King Power Stadium.
Manchester United's Ella Toone during the FA Women's Super League match at King Power Stadium, Leicester on 12 September 2021. (Photo by Isaac Parkin)

If I was asked to use one word to describe Ella Toone’s start of the season, it would be ‘dazzling’.

As a matter of fact, the young English footballer has put anyone who has watched Manchester United this season under her spell. On top of all that, this feels like only the beginning in Toone’s journey towards becoming one of the sport’s most elite players.

Toone’s favourite song is ‘Islands in the Stream’, the title of which was inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s posthumous novel of the same name. The first part of that novel was originally called ‘The Sea When Young’.

It’s a fitting connection to the Tyldesley-born footballer, especially given the fact that she is making quite the splash in her third season of the English top flight’s immense sea of footballing quality.

Her best start to a WSL season

In her first two games of the WSL season, Toone has already left fans stunned and eager for what’s to come.

One goal and two assists in just 155 minutes of football is a great introduction to a high-flying season. Reading and Leicester’s players had to witness this the hard way.

Manchester United's Ella Toone.
Manchester United’s Ella Toone scores their side’s first goal of the game during the FA Women’s Super League match at King Power Stadium, Leicester on 12 September 2021. (Photo by Isaac Parkin)

In those opening two games, Toone burdened the opposition in many ways. Her impeccably executed shot against Leicester City exemplified this, making United fans rub their eyes in astonishment.

Apart from her goal involvement, Toone’s stats are currently in the top spot of the progressive carries metric with 19.

She also holds 17 progressive passes to her name. This proves that defenders cannot approach the young forward like a pure attacker or a normal midfielder. She stands somewhere between the two lines, and that’s what makes her unique.

Positional versatility and flexibility

Head coach Marc Skinner must be feeling like one of the luckiest coaches in recent women’s football history.

“If you want wonderful footballers for our nation, you have to sometimes take the box off if they are as good as Ella can be,” said the Red Devils manager after Toone’s performance against Leicester.

Manchester United manager Marc Skinner talks with Lucy Staniforth and Ella Toone.
Manchester United manager Marc Skinner talks with Lucy Staniforth and Ella Toone after the FA Women’s Super League match at King Power Stadium, Leicester. (Photo by Isaac Parkin)

The 38-year-old head coach knows that he holds a rough diamond in his hands. It’s natural if someone takes into consideration how well Toone can interpret the game and switch between the roles of playmaker and finisher.

If we take a closer look into Toone’s game, we will most likely identify some key elements. It’s noticeable, especially in her two latest goals for the England national team and Manchester United, of how well she positioned herself and received the ball with lots of space in her favour.

Ella Toone of England.
Ella Toone of England celebrates with teammates after scoring the first goal against North Macedonia during the FIFA 2023 Women’s World Cup Qualifying match at St Mary’s Stadium, Southampton. (Photo by Paul Terry / Sportimage)

In both cases, Toone had her eyes on the goal. Her accurate finishes in both cases are not merely part of her scoring instinct, but the phenomenal personal touch she always puts in her game.

The ‘Raumdeuter’ status

Space is as vital to Toone’s game as Rose Lavelle’s left foot is to her own success. Every major athlete has that one component that makes them stand out. For Toone, her playing style can only be compared to that of Thomas Müller, maybe the biggest ‘raumdeuter’ there is.

‘Raumdeuter’ is a German term that roughly translates to ‘interpreter of space’. In contrast to German international Müller, Toone is quite the technically gifted player. A true treat for the eyes of a football lover.

Last year, the English international managed to produce 86 shot-creating actions in 22 games, 61 of which lead to a shot attempt. This year, Toone counts already 10 actions which lead to a shot. That’s just in two games.

Müller managed to create a term for his own game through his relentless work ethic in the game. Many believed that he might be the first and last of his own breed. But that’s where Toone steps in.

The young baller looks like the female counterpart of Müller. Or if you may prefer, the natural predecessor of Müller’s game. Yet, at the same time, she adds her own character to the position – something many neglect to give her credit for.

Leaving her mark on and off the pitch

A simple scroll to a women’s fan social media makes you believe that Toone is already a top-notch footballer. In fact, ‘Tooney’ is already inspiring the new generation although she is just as young.

Her inclusion in Manchester United’s East Stand banner proves the previous point valid.

Being born in the Greatest Manchester area, Toone knows the struggle and sacrifices younger players must sometimes make. Early on, she had to leave her beloved Manchester United club due to the lack of a senior women’s team.

Toone spent two years at neighboring rivals Manchester City before eventually returning to the red side of Manchester.

Having a taste of both worlds, Toone acknowledges how important loyalty and determination is for young girls. Her figure alone on the pitch should be the “bright signal” for younger players to persuade their dreams.  

What’s next for Toone?

Performances like her latest against Leicester City should be the norm in Toone’s chequebook for her self-improvement. As Leicester City coach Jonathan Morgan said, “How do you stop her? I don’t think you can.” That quite sums it up.

Ella Toone of England.
Ella Toone of England during the FIFA 2023 Women’s World Cup Qualifying match against North Macedonia at St Mary’s Stadium, Southampton. (Photo by Paul Terry / Sportimage)

Manchester United had a fairly low key transfer window, with lots of big names leaving the club. If Toone manages to keep improving on the field, she could have what it takes to fill the voids that Tobin Heath and Christen Press’s departures left.

As far as internationally, the 22-year-old is already earning Sarina Wiegman’s trust and redeeming it with goals and stellar performances.

The new England manager gave Toone the baptism by fire by starting her for the first time against North Macedonia and then against Luxembourg. She was blissed to score against the former on her starting debut blowing off the steam from the 51-years-old’s team. It was the first goal for the new era “Lionesses” (the final score was 8-0) and the second in just four international caps for Toone.

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