We’re here to win and we’re here to fight for titles. I think what we’ll be able to bring is just a relentless mindset towards that, and to never question or doubt if that’s why we’re here and if that’s the team’s purpose. I think that’s a big thing.Christen Press
Christen Press says Manchester United offered an “amazing chance” to come to the FA Women’s Super League after she joined fellow U.S. National Team star Tobin Heath on the red side of Manchester for the next year. The forward, like everyone else, had been left in limbo by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the National Women’s Soccer League season and decided to follow not just Press, but Sam Mewis, Rose Lavelle, and Alex Morgan in swapping the U.S. for England.
“I decided to play for Manchester United because they offered an amazing chance for me to get back to football after having been away for six months, which is the longest stretch of time of my life that I haven’t played,” said Press when speaking to the media for the first time since her move.
“I had not been considering coming to Europe early this year, and I think a lot of sights were towards the Olympics this summer and in March when football shut down in the United States and for myself, kind of all bets were off, and no one knew what to expect. It wasn’t six months of thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’ I was sort of just living day to day, trying to figure out how I was going to get to a field the next day. When I found out that Manchester United was interested in signing myself and Tobin, I jumped at the opportunity to play for a great club — a massive club with such history — to play for a team that’s going to have an opportunity to fight for titles and to play for a manager that’s really well respected.”
Like Heath, Press — joining from the Utah Royals FC — had to go through the mandatory two-week quarantine period after arriving in Manchester, but she wasn’t hit with the stereotypical Manchester weather.
Instead, Press has enjoyed a few weeks of sun and warm weather and actually believes the quarantine period has been a plus for her and allowed her to adapt to life in the U.K. before she joined training with the club at the start of the week.
“I am pretty easy about things like this, but everyone keeps asking about how the quarantine went and thinking it was terrible, but essentially, I was in quarantine for six months because we were sheltering in place in Portland in the United States. I think in an ideal world, of course, you would get to come and jump right in, but there were a ton of advantages for having this period of time to be able to emotionally adjust and prepare; to be able to eat English food and get used to it, to sleep on the time zone.”
“I actually felt like going into my first training session, which was a few days ago, that I was much more prepared than I would have been if I had got off a flight the day before. So it was a blessing in disguise, and I was able to talk to a lot of staff, a lot of players during quarantine virtually, and then met just a small group of players over the weekend that are still here and not on international duty.”
On Manchester life itself so far, Press added: “Because we’ve been in quarantine, mostly a view from my window. But we’ve had really lucky weather and I was afraid it was going to be very gloomy and rainy all the time, which I’m still ready for and expecting. But we’ve had two and a half weeks of beautiful sunny days and I think it’s obvious to me that the people of Manchester really are appreciating that and enjoying the sun and it seems like it’s the football capital of the world. There’s so much history here so I’m looking forward to, as always, just learning new things, trying new things, and when it’s safe, being able to appreciate going to games and playing games and enjoying that side of it as well.”
Been Here Before
Press has played abroad before, but never in England. The 31-year-old had an impressive spell in Sweden eight years ago with Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC and then Tyresö FF, before returning to Göteborg most recently in 2018 before settling down with the Royals.
While it might be her first time playing for a first team in England, it’s not actually the first time Press has come to play football in Manchester itself.
“I think the history that goes into putting on this crest is something that I’ve never experienced,” Press admitted. “It’s something that no club has in the United States and even the other international teams I played for don’t have this type of rich history of football. So it’s a huge honor, and a lot of ways it feels surreal.
“I came to Manchester when I was 13 years old. I was playing for a local team; we came over and played Manchester United development girls’ team. It was the first time I experienced the Premier League and English football and I was blown away, so to be back here some decades later and to be playing, it’s an amazing opportunity. I hope that I can absorb as much of the football culture and the football magic that’s here as possible.”
The move means Press will be playing her football under former England captain Casey Stoney for the next year. Stoney, who already had a large reputation within the women’s game before moving into management, has guided United to the top half of the FA WSL in just two years and Press has great admiration for someone who is quickly developing into a top coach.
“Casey has an amazing reputation,” she said. “Everyone that we spoke to spoke incredibly highly of her. Coming into this environment and meeting the staff and my teammates, I think it would be hard to find a group that speaks more highly of a manager. It’s very challenging as a manager to be both liked and respected and she’s certainly that. That just makes me incredibly excited to grow and to learn from her because I think she’s going to be something special.”
With Stoney still one of the youngest coaches in the FA WSL, it’s no surprise she looked to bring in some experience to a young team, particularly after the retirement of goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain.
At 31, Press is instantly the third oldest member of the current squad, behind only Jane Ross and fellow new arrival Heath. While Press still has plenty to give on the pitch, she’s also looking forward to learning new things but also using her winning experience to help United’s younger players who are yet to taste success at the top level.
“Yes, I’m reluctantly accepting that I’m a veteran player and that I’m now one of the oldest players on the team, but younger than Tobin,” she laughed. “We’re here to win and we’re here to fight for titles. I think what we’ll be able to bring is just a relentless mindset towards that, and to never question or doubt if that’s why we’re here and if that’s the team’s purpose. I think that’s a big thing.
“I think also just being a professional for a really long time, you get really smart with what you need to do to be successful individually and I do think that younger players have to learn that, so hopefully we can be helpful in that. I think the mixing of cultures is super interesting on both sides. There’ll be a lot that we get to learn from coming over here and experiencing a different brand of football and a different culture of people, and vice versa. I think Americans’ reputation always exceeds us and it’s not always a good thing, but what I hope to bring is a competitive nature, drive, hard work ethic, striving for excellence, in all that I do.”
There will be plenty Press will quickly become familiar with in England. With U.S. teammate Heath on the same team and midfield duo Lavelle and Mewis living in the same city, the U.S. is quickly taking over Manchester.
Press and Heath will come up against their fellow World Cup winners in the Continental Cup as well as two meetings in the league, and Press is looking forward to the challenge.
“Well, it will be strangely familiar, because I play against those players every single day in training with the national team. Our national team is so competitive that sometimes our small-sided tournaments feel like they are international competitions. For a long time, especially as entirely attacking-minded players on the national team, these players have been my competition. We’re obviously used to playing against each other in the league as well. But it’s also great to have them here and I think for our team to have five players come over all at the same time, to be experiencing something similar to, hopefully when we get back to internationals traveling and being on similar schedules, I think is a huge advantage.”
Competing for Titles
Press has won almost everything there is to win for a player at the top of her game at international level. Domestically, though, she hasn’t yet been able to replicate that success, with a Swedish Cup her sole success after she was on the wrong end of an enthralling UEFA Champions League final in 2014.
The forward may never get to represent United in Europe, but she can help guide them there, as well as compete for three domestic trophies, something she admits was a big influence in her decision.
“It’s been hard. It’s definitely not a series of decisions that were taken lightly or planned. I think looking forward, there’s an amazing opportunity to be in a training and game environment for the next 10 months, that no matter what the state of the NWSL was in, obviously we go into offseason. Being away from the game for the last six months, it really did change my perspective. I was not planning to come and play in Europe, not that I was against it, but I just didn’t see that in my immediate cards and that did change; and I think there’s a bit of me that was woken up from being unable to play for so long and a little bit of that feeling that I’ve got to get back in, I’ve got to get back to it quickly.
“I was able to train individually, but competing for titles — that’s what I’m here to do, I’m here to compete for titles. And in England, we have more opportunities to win more types of titles and obviously qualify for Champions League and that played a huge role in it. Manchester United has a great opportunity to compete for all of those and that’s a very special and desirable environment to be in.”
While competing for titles won’t be easy given United’s main rivals have all benefited from the arrival of big stars from abroad too, Press believes her teammates have the attitude and desire to go as far as anyone in search of success this season.
“The girls, they’re young. There’s a fresh hunger and vibrancy that comes from everybody, from the club, from the players. That’s always something great to be a part of. I think the team is prided on being disciplined, being organized, and being humble. Those are great attributes for any organization, and one that I would be proud to be a part of.”
With an array of attacking options at her disposal after not just the arrivals of Press and Heath but also young England forward Alessia Russo, Stoney will have plenty of options moving forward with her American duo now available for selection after the international break.
Press has long been known as a No. 9 but also played out wide for the U.S., but she isn’t too fussy where she plays in a red shirt as long as she can contribute to the team.
“For most of my career, I would have said I’m a nine,” she admitted. “It’s where I was trained to play. But in the last three years of my life, both at club and country, I have played wide. I’ve played primarily in the 11 and I would say I’m very comfortable there as well. I think it allows me to have a little bit more of a dynamic nature to my style of play, to be able to be a little bit more free-flowing. With that, I’m very open to wherever I’m needed to play to make the team the most successful.”
Arguably the biggest talking point among fans after her arrival was a change in shirt number. Press is set to wear the number 24 rather than the 23 that has become so synonymous with her as a footballer.
“Yeah, sorry, anyone who bought Press 23! I would have worn it if I could. It’s not the first time in my career that I’ve been out of 23, it actually happens every Olympics because you have to wear below 18. Hopefully, the fans know how it goes and they can get their money back in and get a 24 shirt. But, yeah, as we signed later into the season, so I picked 24; it was the best of the bunch and obviously has a history to that number as well.”
Expanding on the history she is talking about, it turns out some thought went into picking the number 24, rather than it being the closest number to 23.
“Oh, Kobe [Bryant]. I mean, I’m not someone that like holds too much luck or significance to a number. But I think when I wasn’t able to wear my normal number, I definitely chose this with a little nod to Kobe, because I’m an L.A. girl and grew up and everyone, everywhere we went, they were crazy for Kobe and the amount of inspiration and joy that he gave people by the way he played with his passion is amazing..”
The COVID-19 pandemic has inadvertently created a big opportunity for the FA WSL to grow while the NWSL has relied solely on a one-month Challenge Cup and more recently a series of friendlies with the lack of a full season due to the impact of the pandemic across the pond.
With the likes of Pernille Harder also coming to the league from Germany, there’s a feeling England is taking over as the top league worldwide, but Press believes that will only have a positive impact on her nation’s quest to continue their dominance after taking back-to-back World Cups in France last summer.
“I think that it is my belief and many Americans’ belief that competition is the ultimate driver of success,” she said. “So for us to continue to be successful, we need other leagues to be successful and we need investment in the women’s global game. That’s the only way to keep pushing the bar and standard. I think it is a very welcome thing to have more competition in the status of the leagues and to have more competition in international games. It’s what keeps pushing the bar higher for us and for the sport and it makes it more beautiful and a more interesting game to watch.”