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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Manchester United’s Leah Galton: ‘You go that extra mile in the derby’ | Manchester United Women

The table has turned. When Manchester United step out at the Academy Stadium on Sunday they do so with a five-point advantage over their derby rivals Manchester City. Aided by an injury crisis that has strangled City’s first third of the season, United are nine games away from finishing above the Blues for the first time in their short history. With the gap closing, the relatively new rivalry is intensifying.

For the United forward Leah Galton, there is nothing quite like the derby. “It’s probably one of the best feelings,” she says. “It gives the game a bit more hunger and bite, you just want to put that extra challenge in and to go that extra mile because it’s the derby.” The game is sold out, albeit with a reduced capacity still because of Covid, and a record crowd being on the cards reinforces the sense that the derby rivalry is increasing.

Ellen White’s late equaliser denied United the win in the reverse fixture and Gareth Taylor’s City are finding their rhythm now as injured players have returned, but United are the more in-sync unit. That, though, has also taken time too, with the players having to get to grips with the vision of Marc Skinner, who replaced Casey Stoney as manager in the summer.

Galton reflects: “For me, I can’t speak for any of the other girls, it was hard to understand it because I’m not great with change and there was a lot of change come the summer. So first of all I just had to get my head around change, and I think that’s why it took me a while to buy in and get on the same page as everyone. But I think we’re all pretty much there now.”

Leah Galton scores for Manchester United against Birmingham in January 2022
Leah Galton scores for Manchester United against Birmingham in January 2022. Photograph: Ed Sykes/Action Images/Reuters

That is perhaps an understatement. United have been in scintillating form and Galton has been a key component of an attacking triumvirate with Ella Toone and Alessia Russo. Skinner’s arrival perhaps hit Galton harder than most. The winger credits Stoney for reigniting her love for football after a break away from the game that may not have seen her return.

“It was definitely very hard to see her go after everything she put into the team, the club and myself. She definitely made me fall in love with football again,” says the 27-year-old Galton. “I’m just trying to continue what she taught me really and trying to keep myself in a good place with the game. Right now I think I am. So, I have a lot to thank her for.”

Under Skinner she is a bit “more defensively minded” while trying to make sure she is in the box more and getting among the goals. It was her assist and then two goals in quick succession against a Birmingham team buoyed by a win over Arsenal the preceding week, and a goal against Tottenham, that earned her the Barclays WSL player of the month award for January.

“I did smile after those goals because getting in at the back post is literally the main thing we’d been working on all week in training,” says Galton. “I found myself in the box in the right place at the right time with some really good deliveries from Less and Tooney, so I’ve just got to be thankful that my teammates can deliver a good ball.”

Leah Galton with her player of the month award
Leah Galton with her player of the month award. Photograph: Barclays

It was in January last season that United’s title challenge started to wane as injuries took hold. Galton was among those sidelined and she “hated not being able to play and help the team”, struggling with the demands of rehab.

However, she says time out is an important part of maintaining her enjoyment of the game and why she decided not to make herself available for England during Phil Neville’s tenure. It is something she has discussed with the new manager, Sarina Wiegman.

“I’ve spoken to Sarina a few times, she’s really nice, really good persona, very understanding,” explains Galton. “She knows where I’m at mentally and in my head about the England situation. I’ve been open and honest with everybody and I want people to know that it’s not anything to do with the setup or the girls. It’s more about me having my own time and having a break when everyone else goes around national duty, I need that time to myself.

“It’s something that I have noted in my life that I need. Otherwise, I get too stuck into work mode. Then I start not enjoying it. Instead, when I come back from that break it’s nice because it’s refreshing and I’m excited to get back on the pitch.”

You get the impression that, given the chance, Galton would happily avoid the spotlight. However, as a flair player, full of attacking intensity, it is hard for her not to be noticed and at times she even embraces it, not least through the elaborate hairstyles courtesy of her fiancé, Sheridan Douglas.

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Having the pick of the Barmy Army’s extensive list of chants – “Whoa oh, we’ve got Leah Galton” – speaks to the fondness United’s fanbase has for her, too. “After a game, to be honest, I do sometimes wake up singing it in my head, which is kind of annoying, but kind of good at the same time.” Does Douglas go round singing it to wind her up? “Yeah, she does,” she says with a laugh. “All the time.”

Leah Galton is the Barclays WSL player of the month for January. Read our interview with December’s player of the month, Ella Toone, here.

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