Cushing signs off from Man City after stunning spell of success

Steph Houghton Nick Cushing Manchester City Women 2020
The coach has left City in a strong position having replenished the playing ranks and pushing through some exceptional young talent

“Thanks for never slamming me in the press – and don’t batter me if it goes wrong in New York!”

Just like that, Nick Cushing and Manchester City went their separate ways. The club are sitting pretty at the top of the Women’s Super League, their former coach is heading Stateside after guiding City to victory over Arsenal in his 193rd and final game in charge.

“It’s never a right time, feeling-wise, to leave,” is something he has said repeatedly over the last week or so – in the build-up to a huge WSL fixture, on the pitch after winning it 2-1 and to the media afterwards too, ahead of his move to New York City FC.

“It’s onto the next chapter, the next journey, and the players and staff will continue this success.”

The six and a half years Cushing has spent in charge in the north west have been, quite simply, revolutionary.

Having taken over the team when they went pro in late 2013, then as a 29-year-old, what he has done in the time since has been unprecedented.

Winning the Continental Cup in his first season set the tone for success, which would come in the form of two more of those trophies, two FA Women’s Cups and a WSL title.

But the manner in which that success has been achieved is what has been most impressive.

When City entered the WSL for the first time in 2014, they were littered with a number of England internationals, including Karen Bardsley, Steph Houghton, Jill Scott and Toni Duggan.

But in the background were players that would become their international team-mates, thanks to Cushing and his trust in youth.

Among those were Izzy Christiansen, Abbie McManus and, arguably the coach’s biggest success story in this sense, Keira Walsh.

Walsh, still just 22 years old, has quickly become one of the best midfielders in the world with the minutes she has been afforded.

“Everyone at the CFA knows he’s a special guy,” she said before the game.

“He’s had such a big impact on the women’s team and my career especially.

“I’ve got a lot to thank him for and I do make sure I tell him that. It’s important because I don’t think I’d be where I am now if it wasn’t for him.”

Keira Walsh Steph Houghton Manchester City Women 2019

Walsh is the perfect example of what City’s philosophy has been under Cushing and is a reason why they are in such a good place going forward, even without the coach who has guided them there.

“Trust, I think. Allowing them in their early years to make mistakes,” he said when asked why he thinks so many young players have thrived.

“We’ll always have that process of making sure that we get, or that we try to get, the best young British talent.

“It’s dead easy to go out and buy the best player, everybody in the world wants to do that. We’ve done it in a way that we believe is the right way.

“We’re top of the league with that recruitment.”

In the team that beat reigning champions Arsenal on Sunday was 20-year-old Ellie Roebuck, brought in from Sheffield United four years ago. She is now City’s No.1, a full England international and the front-runner to be her country’s No. 1 at this summer’s Olympics.

Demi Stokes was brought in straight after finishing university in America in 2015, while Lauren Hemp and Caroline Weir are both players who were brought in from struggling WSL teams and have been forged into title-winning players.

“Caroline Weir had two years at Bristol and Liverpool where she lost every week. We put huge responsibility on her to be in our team and win – and she’s delivered,” Cushing said.

“It’s about spotting potential and giving them the opportunity and the trust to go and win.”

In midfield was Walsh, who was named player of the match, and, finally, at right-back was Georgia Stanway.

Naturally a forward, the 21-year-old was filling in at the back for her manager, with regular starter Janine Beckie away with Canada for Olympic qualifiers.

Her performance against Arsenal in midweek, when City lost 2-1 in the Conti Cup semi-finals, brought about plenty of criticism of Cushing.

When Stanway was starting in that position again on Sunday, against the same opponent, it was a surprise.

But in her coach’s final game in charge, she was determined, winning her individual battle with one of the most talented wingers around, Beth Mead, and being one of the stand-out performers on the day.

“I’m quite enjoying it,” she said after the game. “I’m just doing a job for the team at the moment. I think, on a personal level, I’ve not done a bad job.

“I don’t think we could have [said goodbye] any better.

“Arsenal are an unbelievable side, as we found out on Wednesday, when we didn’t really get the result that we wanted.

“We made sure that today, we came out and we turned it around. It’s not a bad way to end his six years.”

What follows next will be interesting.

Amid reports of increased financial backing by the club for their women’s team, will City bring in a ‘big name’ manager to head those plans?

Will they trust in Cushing’s assistant, Alan Mahon, and see how he fares?

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Will they opt for a progressive, development-focused manager who is already established with a good track record?

Or will they try and repeat the trick and appoint another coach from within?

Whatever happens, for whoever is next, Cushing couldn’t have left things in better shape for them.