Ella Toone, in her own words, was once “a little girl with a big dream”. Like many, that dream was not only to play professional football, but to represent Manchester United at the Theatre of Dreams.
In 2018, when the Red Devil’s women’s team was born, Toone could finally achieve her childhood goal, taking little thought to drop a division and play for the club she grew up idolising.
A few years later, Toone stands proudly outside Old Trafford as a regular for her club and of growing importance to her country. Instead of watching those that stood before her, Toone now sees her own name and picture – both of which are printed on the famous East Stand.
Toone wears the No.7 shirt now, and – like her idol Cristiano Ronaldo – she has made her mark in United colours since her debut. She took United to promotion in the club’s inaugural season and is now their record appearance holder and all-time highest goalscorer.
It would not be unfair to say that, at just 22-years-old, Toone is already integral to a United side challenging the WSL elite, having missed out on Champions League football by a point last season.
This year, Toone has gone to a new level. She has shone in the spotlight created by the WSL’s growing interest and visibility, and has found herself performing consistently in front of a wider audience. In five league games so far, the Tyldesley-born striker has found the net twice and assisted four. She was key to United’s unbeaten start, which was only cancelled out by an impressive Chelsea performance.
Despite her goal involvements, it is Toone’s versatility that has got her considerable praise from those in and around the game. With her obvious talent aside, what is most notable about Toone is a football intelligence beyond her years. She reads the game with ease and by doing so generates space for both herself and her teammates.
“She has the ability to manipulate the ball in such a tight area, you don’t know which way she can go,” said United boss Marc Skinner, after the opening day victory against Leicester City in which Toone scored her side’s opener.
“It’s the spaces she can find. When Ella’s in those positions, we want that more often because of what a wonderful talent she can be.”
Skinner is right to praise the attacker, but is probably aware that it is only Toone’s United roots that allows him to have such a talent in his starting eleven. Her performances will no doubt attract interest from a host of WSL teams and United will have to prove they are able to keep hold of big players, whether they have an emotional tie to the team like Toone or not.
Regardless of her domestic club, Toone is England’s future, make no mistake about that. With such an exciting and talented bunch of players for Sarina Wiegman to work with, you have to be some player to stand out, especially amongst England’s attack.
But, Toone is doing just that. After representing England at youth levels, the 22-year-old made her debut for England against Northern Ireland in February. A goal from the spot came shortly after her introduction from the bench. Toone stepped up with confidence to dispatch her first international goal from twelve yards.
Six months later, Toone scored on her first international start and has recently gone on to repay Wiegman’s faith for starting her in both of England’s last World Cup qualifiers, hitting a stunning hat-trick against Latvia.
“It feels amazing,” Toone said on the Lionesses social media channels, after collecting the match ball last month.
“I was just buzzing to get a goal really and then the second one came and then everyone was like ‘oh, you’re going to get a hat-trick’ but you don’t think about it when you’re playing, you just want to play your game and help contribute to the performance.”
Toone is right to think her hat-trick is just the start of what will likely be a glistening international career. The signs look positive that she will be involved at this summer’s Euros, that is for sure, with Wiegman full of Toone’s praises after her star performances for the Lionesses last month.
“Ella is a very talented player. I don’t know how good she will become – that’s up to her. But she is really talented, that is obvious.”
Still, Toone is aware that plenty more work is to be done. Surrounded by Skinner and Wiegman, she has the coaches to guide her to become a player that can not only dominate for club and country, but also change both sides’ standing in their respective competitions.
At 22, Toone has a significant stake in the future of both her club and country. That is a huge testament to the talent she has already become and will surely go on to be.