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Man Utd Women: Marc Skinner insists future is bright after signing new contract, days after winning FA Cup

Marc Skinner delivered Man Utd Women's first major piece of silverware last weekend - and now his new term in charge has been rubber-stamped, what comes next?; watch Man United vs Chelsea live on Sky Sports on Saturday from 2pm, kick-off 3pm

Manchester United captain Katie Zelem lifts the FA Cup trophy

"We don't talk about football enough," Marc Skinner says, half-joking, half-serious. You would assume that, as the manager of a football club, Skinner gets asked about football a lot. But, in reality, things are often less straightforward at Manchester United.

"Questions are asked of us every day," the Man Utd Women boss continues. "You want the human side of us but sometimes barriers go up because we're bombarded with other questions."

He's right. The storylines that circulate Old Trafford go well beyond the boundaries of football. It's the nature of the beast, and yes, it feels as if this season in particular has been narrated more than twice over.

Glazers, INEOS, takeover, Jim Ratcliffe, Dave Brailsford, clear-outs and clean-ups. Even the failings of the Old Trafford roof have gone viral.

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The Old Trafford waterfall was on show again as the heavens opened after Manchester United's match against Arsenal

Much less of that subject matter relates directly to the women's team, of course, but the spotlight of scrutiny shines brighter on Manchester United than most, whether you play for Skinner or Erik ten Hag.

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As consumers, we feed off peril and pitfalls, like a period drama, because it builds excitement and intrigue. Skinner accepts that. But now, with an FA Cup trophy in tow, there is desire, and cause, to steer the conversation away from controversy.

Manchester United Women are FA Cup champions. "It feels right," says Skinner, sat casually on a sofa in the press room at Carrington after holding his final pre-match press conference of the season - fending off questions about the club's cancelled end-of-season awards dinner.

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Mary Earps and Ella Toone enjoy FA Cup trophy lift
Image: Mary Earps and Ella Toone lift the FA Cup after Manchester United's Wembley victory

Skinner himself is from humble beginnings - he used to volunteer his time as a coach alongside teaching - and so Sunday's 4-0 FA Cup triumph over Tottenham at a packed Wembley Stadium was somewhat overwhelming. "I'm a quiet person. I like to reflect.

"There's a moment where I'm sat on the barrier at Wembley, taking it all in, which was captured by the club photographer. The dugout can be a lonely place sometimes."

The picture will go up in his office at Carrington as a reminder of the journey, he says, turning his phone to reveal the black and white silhouette in the foreground, with the pandemonium of Wembley as its backdrop.

It had been 12 years since the FA Cup had been won by a team that was not either Chelsea, Manchester City or Arsenal. "I'm trying to evolve us quickly enough to close that gap on the top three, they have been established for much longer," he added.

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Earps says winning the FA Cup makes a difficult season for Man Utd worth it

"To win a trophy brings something different. A different dimension. Go and ask [Chelsea boss] Emma Hayes, she'll talk about those winning moments. She messaged me after the game and said 'remember these moments'. It's not about glory, that trophy is a symbol of progress."

One of the biggest off-field talking points has been speculation around Skinner's contract, which was due to expire this summer. "Hopefully we'll have news to share soon, hopefully positive," he says with a reassuring undertone. No wonder, not more than 48 hours after this interview took place confirmation of Skinner's new deal landed.

"I look forward to creating many more winning memories," the statement read.

The 41-year-old has come in for some stick this season with his side languishing fifth in the table - beaten home and away by both north-west rivals Manchester City and Liverpool - while simultaneously masterminding the biggest margin of victory in an FA Cup final since Arsenal's 5-0 win over Leeds in 2006.

Ella Toone celebrates after firing Manchester United ahead in the Women's FA Cup final
Image: Toone scored a screamer to open the scoring in the FA Cup final

The juxtaposition has created some external unrest, but reignited something in Skinner that, perhaps, amid all the turbulence, had gotten temporarily lost.

"If you had stood in my shoes at any point over the past three years you'd have experienced stress. I listen to coaches who have been brave enough to talk about their energy - Xavi at Barcelona, Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool - and they are like guiding lights, because we are human. We feel pressure.

"My fire has got bigger and brighter from the situations I've dealt with, particularly this year.

"It would be foolish to think you can win the league in phase one, or even phase two, but I do want to grow towards that. The one thing I've been guilty of this year is allowing the very highest of standards to slip in small moments."

Marc Skinner
Image: Marc Skinner has come in for some criticism this season after Man Utd slipped to fifth in the WSL

An honest admission - one this journalist could not let slide without probing further. "I've walked past a couple of conversations that should have been had," Skinner elaborated.

"It doesn't matter who you are, the approach and attitude has to be right. I won't let that happen again. We've come into the hardest era of women's football that has ever existed and so every detail matters."

Man Utd close out their WSL campaign against a Chelsea side gunning for the championship on Saturday, live on Sky Sports, having already lost six times this season, their most defeats in a single top-flight campaign. They do, however, boast a solid home record.

Since the beginning of 2022, United have lost just three of their 27 league games on home turf.

Mary Earps denies Guro Reiten
Image: Man Utd face Chelsea on the final day of the WSL season

How does Skinner feel about being Hayes' final opponent, before she departs Chelsea for pastures new in the USA?

"Maybe it's fitting. I've known Emma a long time, my partner Laura [Bassett] played for Emma. There are plenty of intertwined conversations," he said.

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"I'm hoping having FA Cup winner's medals pumps into the psyche of our players because we're playing a team fighting for everything. The league is on the line. It's going to be an epic game.

"There's a great opportunity to grab, after Emma leaves, and I'd like us to be first in that position to grab it."

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