‘Raumdeuter’ is a term most associated with Germany’s Thomas Muller. It is how the Bayern Munich sensation described his own style of play, with a phrase that translates roughly to ‘space finder’.
On Sunday, after Manchester United had beaten Leicester City 3-1 in their second game of the Women’s Super League season, head coach Marc Skinner used it to describe Ella Toone.
After providing two assists in a 2-0 win over Reading a week prior, United’s No.7 was on the scoresheet herself on this occasion, once again operating in something of a ‘false 9’ role.
In the first game of the season, she was uninvolved for large parts of the game, such were Reading’s tactics, but made the most of the few touches she had and was a serious influence when she could be.
Against Leicester, it was quite the different story.
Before heading home to pack her suitcase for England duty, picked in the first squad named by new national team head coach Sarina Wiegman, Toone had the second-most touches of anyone on the pitch at the King Power Stadium. She scored once, created three chances and generally stole the show as United went into the international break with six points from two games.
“I think I'm doing all right,” Toone humbly put it after the weekend’s win. “I think [the new role] is good for me because I can get in the pockets, which I like doing, and get on the ball and drive with the ball.
“It's good to be versatile and if [Skinner] wants me to play there, then I'll give my best wherever I'm put and just enjoy my football.”
“In German, it’s called 'Raumdeuter', which means space finder,” Skinner added. “They used to talk about Muller being that person.
“If you have somebody that has a brain to find the spaces, there's always spaces on the field, no matter what system people use. If you have a person who can adapt into those spaces and really hurt the opponent, [Toone] has that ability."
“It's important that we use her in that way, in terms of sometimes you'll be more traditional, but then sometimes we'll allow that freedom to get into the spaces that we have already pre-identified from the opponent,” he went onto explain, with Toone dropping into a deeper role once Martha Thomas, United’s new No.9, came on the pitch.
“Sometimes we put too many labels on [players and positions]. Sometimes she's just a footballer who has this ability, so she can get into gaps that are a No.9's gaps and No.10's gaps.
“I've been guilty of that in the past, that we talk about it because you want to label and put it in the box. But actually, if you want wonderful footballers for our nation, you have to sometimes take the box off if they're as good as Ella can be. I want to allow that.
"She understands the game and the space finding, then it's a different [role], we can call her a No.9 and a half. I think that might be important.”
Among those feeling encouraged by Toone’s start to the season will be Wiegman and the England fans. During the tenure of the Lionesses’ last permanent coach, Phil Neville, that creativity in a central position was something the team massively lacked.
It is not that England lack outstanding talents in that department. Jordan Nobbs, although currently injured, is an exceptionally inventive player in midfield, while Lucy Staniforth, Toone’s United team-mate, was one of few to thrive in the No.10 role in Neville’s 4-2-3-1, when given the rare opportunity.Goal
But whether past instructions in those central areas have been too structured, or players have not felt the freedom Toone is at the moment, or something else entirely, the 22-year-old may offer something different for this new era.
“I hope she goes and is allowed to express who she is in the England camp,” Skinner said. “I'm pretty sure Sarina will see that and her staff will see how wonderful she can be.”
A coach who appreciates the fluidity and flexibility of football, the Netherlands team that Wiegman coached to the 2017 Euros title and a 2019 World Cup final often excelled when her players found those spaces, it would be a surprise if the 51-year-old was not taking note.
“That's my game, getting in the pocket and getting on the ball and just enjoying it,” Toone added. “I'll just take that into camp and if [Wiegman] likes that, then so be it.”
With England to take on two lower-ranked nations in North Macedonia and Luxembourg, who will undoubtedly set up in defensive blocks that will be difficult to break down, Toone’s ability could be incredibly effective for the Lionesses this coming fortnight and beyond.
It is certainly working for Manchester United, anyway.