Manchester United regular, impressing with the Lionesses, and now in the Team GB squad for the Olympics. At just 21 years old, it appears that the world is at Ella Toone’s feet. Another player enjoying her own footballing Utopia, the rising star was an obvious edition in SoccerBible Volumes, our new special edition publication

The number seven and Manchester United are two forces that symbolise both sentiment and strength. There is legacy attached to every player to have worn that number at one of the planet’s most established clubs. One player adding more gravitas and more shine to that prestigious number is a player who gives everything to the cause. With fighting spirit, she's rising into the elite arena, in her own tenacious, yet harmonious, way. That person is Ella Toone. An England International and Team GB squad member who deserves all the acclaim. 

It's been a great couple of years for you. How would you describe them?

It's been massive obviously signing with Manchester United. The first women's team and we won the league in the first year. We played in the WSL2, for the first time, it's been massive for me. This year I've been playing a lot more. Helping the team with goals and assists. I've made my England debut now and scored on it. Hopefully the good times will keep coming.

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The success you have had with United has been great. To own yourself as a team towards the top of the WSL, getting that promotion initially, lots of stuff has happened in three years. Has the transition to the top flight felt quite natural? 

I think it has. We have always had that belief that we can compete with the bigger teams. We have got quite a young squad and we have added a bit more experience to it this year. We have always had that belief we can compete in the top flight and with the big teams. We are showing that we can do that this year. We are taking points away from the big teams, putting on performances each week and now we are challenging for a Champions League spot. Look back three years ago, from the first ever Manchester United team, to where we are now it's huge and it's exciting. I'm proud to be a part of the journey. 

You bag a lot of goals for the club. It works out you are averaging one every other game, if you look at the numbers. Have you started to look at the numbers? Have you set goals with that in mind? 

I set a goal at the start of the season which was that I start a lot more this year than last year. I managed to do that and then the goals and assists have come with it. I've been enjoying my football and I feel confident. I know that Casey believes in me and she puts me in the big games. For me inset goals right at the start of the season and I've been achieving them. I've just got to keep my foot on the gas and hopefully more goals and assists will come. 

When you're feeling comfortable off the pitch and happy does it translate for you on the pitch? 

Yeah of course. When you are happy in everyday life you go to football you are happy performing and confident. I think the main thing is, in football, to be confident. When you're confident you play your own game and with a bit more freedom. That's been great for me this year and I've just tried to enjoy football, the goals and assists have come. 

The experience you have worked up over the last few years, do you feel you have transitioned from a young player coming through to more of an established midfielder now?

Right at the start I was younger, inexperienced and I hadn't played a lot of games in WSL1. This year I've managed to start quite a lot of games and I feel I've been a big part of the team this year. I've helped by assisting and scoring. I think now it's about pushing on and keep getting that experience under my belt. Hopefully some more experience when we reach the Champions League.

I feel like it's a time where people should now think of Ella Toone as a name that comes with real power. How do you want people to think of you? This is what we are trying to achieve with the shoot really is that you have arrived.

I just like to be under the radar, I don't really want my name out there. For me it's taking each day as it comes, each game as it comes and if I can have a good performance that's great. If I'm being noticed that's great. At the end of the day I just want to keep playing well for Manchester United and helping them succeed.

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Playing well wearing a good number comes with a lot of expectation. It has been worn by a lot of United greats. For those younger players, looking at you, how would you describe what it is like to be a Manchester United player?

It's massive. I think it's one of the biggest clubs in the world. It's my club and I support this club, so for me it's even bigger. Wearing the number 7 shirt, there have been so many legends that have been able to put it on, so for me to be the first women's player to wear it is massive. A great achievement. So for every young girl I want to be a role model for them and someone they can look up to. Hopefully one day there will be a little girl in a number 7 shirt for Manchester United and they will be achieving great things.

That message of being the first female player to be able to wear that shirt number is huge. You must be hugely proud of that as part of your legacy because that's never going to go. That will be you for life.

When Casey gave us the shirt when we first signed I was looking at it thinking “Is this my number?” She said “Yes you are number 7.” It was massive for me because when I was younger I would always have number 7 on the back of my shirt. Whether it be Ronaldo or Toone. 7 is just a massive number for Manchester United. To wear it is a big achievement and something that I will be forever proud of.

You have seen a lot of top players come into the squad, top the United States. What has that experience been like as they are so highly regarded and have achieved so much. Does it feel like you have been able to prove the level you are at?

They have been great for us and I have learned so much from them, being a young player, looking up to them. They have achieved so much in their career. But it only pushed me more and made me work even harder. That I can play on the same side as someone who has won a World Cup and I'm good enough to be alongside those players. I've been a sponge and soaked up all the information they have provided on and off the pitch. They have pushed me to be even better in training, I've learned a lot from them and they have helped me improve.

What have you learned from players that are coming into the squad? Has it opened your eyes to different cultures?

We have got lots of players from overseas and around the country. They all bring that little bit of culture. We speak a lot to the Americans and everything they do is so different to what we do. Even with fashion they wear is just so cool. We pick up little things from them and it's food we have a different variety of people on our team, people we can learn from.

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What about getting the call from the England squad? That moment when you get that call what's it like?

It was Phil who rang me for the first time saying that I was called up to my first camp. I didn't really know what to say, I was gobsmacked. I rang my mum and dad as soon as. It was just a proud moment and something that I always dreamed of. To have made my senior debut is massive and to score with it was a dream come true. A day I will never forget.

You are a very grounded person. How does it feel to casually say “I got a call from Phil.” I scored on my England debut and playing alongside World Cup winners?

It's still surreal. Whenever I think about it I always think when I was a little girl it's all I ever dreamed of. You just have to enjoy the moments because these are the things you have worked so hard for in your career. I'm proud to say that I have played for England and hopefully I have made my family proud as well.

Quite often you can get lost in looking behind or forward as to what's to come. Do you take time to enjoy the now and feel the moment you’re in?

You have to take the moments, live in the moments. There's a lot of highs and lows in football. When you do reach a high you just have to embrace every minute of it and enjoy it.

With the highs, there is always the lows. How do you handle those tougher moments when they do come?

There's a lot of lows in football but I think they are the main times you learn from. So you have to live in the moment in the lows as well. You can come out greater from them and learn so much. When you do achieve a high it's even bigger.

I don't know if it was intimidating or nervous to go to the England setup as the only United player at that time. How did that feel? Did you have nerves on the journey?

I was a little bit nervous. When you go with someone on your team I just felt so comfortable when they were on the camps. When I went on my own I was a bit nervous but I know quite a lot of the girls from City and the youth ages. Everyone makes you feel welcome and when you are there you have to enjoy every minute. Prove why you have been chosen to come to camp and to be alongside some of the best players in England.

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Were there any players that just took you under their wing? Are there any standouts that guided you through the process?

They are all very welcoming. I am very close with Alex Greenwood, she took my under her wing. Georgia Stanway have been through the age groups together and we played at Blackburn together. I always felt like I had sisters there and at ease. When the United girls are there they are just family. I'm always comfortable and all the girls are really nice.

I'm intrigued what the smaller details are like when you go to St George's Park. Does the FA send a car? Do you go up by yourself? What happens?

Due to Covid-19 we have been driving up ourselves. I remember after I made my debut I got in the car and was just crying, overwhelmed. To finally reach that goal I set years ago and be living my dream. I was a bit overwhelmed but I'm glad I didn't have an FA car that day else I would be crying to the driver. You drive yourself down and meet up with all the girls when you get there.

Crying on the way back with happiness?

We played in the morning and I got in the car on the way home. I was just looking at all the messages I received and was just so overwhelmed I was crying.

It is a hell of an achievement to score on your debut. Going back before that, the first reaction of your family. You worked so hard to get to that point, what were their emotions?

They were just so proud. I think they always believed in me and that I would make my senior debut. When I was 5 my nan put a bet on that I would one day play for England. Now I've made that true and my nan is over the moon. My family have always believed in me from the start so it was a proud moment for us all.

How much did she cash out?

She gave me £1,000 but I think she gave the other grandkids a little bit.

Your dad particularly must be so proud given how involved he is in football, on a grassroots level. Does that drive you even more for the next?

As you grow older you understand more what your family did when you were younger. My dad has been to every home game, away game, abroad, he has always been there. I feel like I'm repaying him now for all the sacrifices he made, making my mum proud and all my family. When I do get an achievement it's for them and hopefully I keep making more and then proud.

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Take that drive home, for example, did it feel like a life changing moment you have just been through?

My dad was saying everyone has messaged him and he was crying watching my debut. I meant a lot to me. All the support over the years from my PE teachers, family, friends, I just think it was for them. It was a proud day.

I listened to that interview you did with your PE teacher, it was really nice. How has your mindset changed over the last year? You shouldn't just be grateful to be at your level. Instead relentless as an athlete now. Is that a shift you have experienced?

You are grateful for a lot of things in football, but you have worked so hard to get there. I just want to keep improving as a player and achieve such great things. There's still a long way to go and I will keep making those sacrifices and commitments. Being relentless in training and working hard to be where I want to be at. Achieving bigger things.

To score on your debut is a perfect marker not where you want to go. How would you want your England career to look?

A great start scoring on my England debut and grateful to the girl who gave me the penalty. Now I have to keep my foot on the gas, making more appearances for England and hopefully winning major trophies. But it's exciting and I will keep working hard, keeping my head down and performing at my club so I get picked for the upcoming camps.

We have talked about goals a little bit. When something like the England stuff comes on it's another new chapter. Do you think this is something I have got to do?

At the start of the season I set goals and when you achieve them you have to set bigger ones. One of my goals, at the start of the season, was to be called up to my first England camp. So I ticked that box and I set another goal of making my England debut and I did that. Now it's about getting picked for each camp. It's always good to see goals and reminders to keep pushing yourself. Remembering what you are pushing yourself to achieve.

It's fair to say you are nothing but a winner. Does that go across all aspects of your life? When you do something you go all in?

That's down from my family. We are so competitive and all my family are involved in sport. Right from the beginning I was a sore loser and hated losing. Everything I did I wanted to win and that's been great for me in my career because I never want to lose and always want to keep improving, keep winning. That's helped me a lot and I just want to keep winning with United, England and improving.

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All those achievements, over the last year in particular, when you look back to leaving City it sounds like you were pretty devastated by that. But you have got to be so proud of finding your way to the top in a different route. A route that you have made?

I was sad when I left City, I left a great club and a set of girls. I knew I needed to move on to kickstart my own career. I did that and I made a big decision to play down the league. I think that gave me so much more experience and I was playing football and I was enjoying it. I think it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I look back now and think if I stayed at City would I have ever made as many appearances as I have for United. Would I have scored as many goals or made my England debut. It was a massive decision but a good decision.

Probably one of the hardest but proven to be one of the greatest decisions. How strong are you in terms of having that self belief and that conviction? It was a massive call to make that decision but do you have a lot of faith in your own decision making?

I've got a lot of good people around me so I listen to my family, my agent, and made the decision together. It was a big decision but like you say a great decision that worked out well for me. I've really kick started my career now and I want to keep getting better.

It's a bit out there but do things like that add to your wisdom? Such experience to have in the locker. You are someone who is constantly learning and is a sponge to those experiences.

You have got to be a sponge when you are young and learn a lot of people and experiences. I think I have done that a lot throughout my career. It's always helped me being that sponge and learning off everyone. Whether that be on or off the pitch, but also learning from experience of the highs and lows. I think I've learned a lot in my career and it's only done me well.

To add to that. Signing for a brand like Nike, being connected to them, they are showing their support. It must give you a lot of confidence. It's the kind of thing you dream of as a kid isn't it?

Everyone will always say I've always worn Nike boots right from the very start. To have signed a Nike
deal is massive for me. Like you say, another dream come true, another proud day. It only gives me that confidence to keep performing well. Scoring goals, assisting goals and helping the team to get 3 points every weekend.

How does it feel on a personal level? The work that goes into earning those kinds of deals. When they come on the table it must give you reassurance that you are doing good things.

Yeah of course. You forget sometimes that you are doing well and you are being noticed. For Nike to have put a contract on the table it's massive. It shows that I am doing something right and achieving things, so it's been great. Another dream come true.

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What's it been like to play without fans? Does it show just how much fans are integral to football? The viewing experience, from my side, is completely different.

They are like that twelfth when you are on the pitch and need that little bit of spurring on. It's been tough, we have missed them. I've missed my family being at every game. When I scored the winner at Arsenal, you're meant to look up and see your mum and dad there, but I went home and they repeated on the TV about ten times. I can't wait for them to be back in and sharing moments like that with them again. But yeah we have missed them.

There's a lot of football talk just then. What have your tastes off the pitch developed like? Have you found out more about yourself I've the last couple of years? Who you are personality wise?

I've always known what kind of person I am. I come across quite shy but I am a lot more confident within myself now, on the pitch and off the pitch. You learn a lot of things in football and take it into everyday life. I've learnt a lot about myself as a person as well as a player this year.

I'm sure you will always stay grounded and true to who you are. When you think about how you have developed, looking back and what you would like to develop more looking forward. Is there a person you would like to become and things you would like to achieve away from the pitch?

I've used my profile quite well. I want to be doing more things off the pitch. I spoke to United and said I want to be, not Marcus Rashford, but what he is doing for the community. I've done a couple of calls with groups of young girls that want to become professional footballers. Anything I can do to help them achieve their dreams with younger girls and boys I will do that. I want to be the role model on the pitch and off the pitch for all the young girls and boys aspiring to be professional footballers. As I get older I want to be helping the community more. Whether that's going into schools, or whatever I can do, using my profile to do that.

Finally then, when you talk of what the future can look like with dream scenarios, where does your head go when you think of the Olympics? What team GB could potentially be...

It's really exciting. There's so much young talent and experienced players you can have in that GB team. It's something you want to be a part of but you have to keep working hard away from England. At your club, making sure you put in performances there and everyday being that true professional. Doing everything right to make sure you have a better chance of being picked. I think the team will do great. There's a lot of special talent in the team so it will be exciting.

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Photography by Jennifer Jukes and Pete Martin
Styling by Heather Croston

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