Toni Duggan: Life at Barcelona, U.S. tour, highs and lows, Phil Neville and England
BEAVERTON, Ore. -- A year has passed since Toni Duggan uprooted her life in England to sign for Barcelona. There have been highs and lows since, but she's feeling better than ever as she prepares for the new season as part of the Catalan club's tour of the United States.
It's the first time Barca have ever brought the men's and women's teams on the same tour and Duggan talks exclusively to ESPN FC about the message that sends to the world of football, her first year abroad, winning next year's World Cup and working under former Manchester United and Everton defender Phil Neville with the national team.
How was your first year at Barcelona?
I think it was mixed. If I look back, I think I will be disappointed in my performances but I think for my first year, if you look at the whole, I didn't do too bad. I scored goals, I helped the team, I played a lot and I felt like an important player. But I also know I can take my game to the next level and there's a lot more for me to give. I already feel a million times better this season. I understand what the coach is saying and what's required. It took a lot of energy last season: the language, settling in and the style of play.
Did it feel like a big change coming from Manchester City?
It's very different here. Obviously, culturally England's style of play is a lot more direct and physical. In Spain, they're a lot more patient and they have the ball a lot more. They're different styles and to adapt to that, I think it takes time, but I am really looking forward to this year, how we play and feel like I have a better understanding of the philosophy. I feel more relaxed and comfortable on the ball.
So we're about to witness the best of Toni Duggan?
I have to stick to what the manager wants and the culture of the team. But I'd like to bring my style and my game to the game more because I believe I can do that and it would be good for the team. I needed to get that first year under my belt, to know the players, the coaches, obviously do what's required from the manager. Hopefully, now I can be more confident in my style and not have to worry too much about being in certain positions and doing certain things religiously.
You seem really comfortable around the club
I really feel at home. The girls are amazing, they really are a good family. We just have a good connection. I think the girls understand me. I think that can be difficult because the English culture and the Spanish culture, even as people, is different. England's a lot more banter but they understand me as a person and allow me to be myself and that's the most important thing. Also great credit to the president (Josep Maria Bartomeu) and the coaches, we're all integrated. So, whether it's the (men's) first team going past, they all say "Hello, how are you?" It's a really good club to be at.
There's an increasing trend of English players moving abroad now
I think it's massive and it can only do good for the national team as well. If you see how far the Lionesses have come in the last few years, obviously the game's a lot more professional now and all the hard work that the girls put in, but you can also see that people have been playing in different environments and what they bring to the team. You also look at the men's team and how well they've done at the World Cup. The likes of Eric Dier, he played abroad, and a few others. I think it's really important for the future. The future can be bright because these kids have got this experience.
I have got two good mates that have just move abroad recently. Mary Earps has gone to Germany and Isobel Christiansen to France. I just said to them, it's obviously a new chapter and you're really excited, but there will be days when you're frustrated, angry, upset, you miss home, you're having the time of your life, you're really excited. It comes in waves. You just have to stick by that and realise why you're here. The first year is the toughest year but I got through that and I really enjoyed it looking back as a whole.
You had low moments last season?
Yeah, there were some really tough moments. Obviously, at the start when I didn't have anywhere to live I was in and out of hotels because you can't book them outright. It was difficult. I was moving my bags from one place to another. The club were brilliant trying to help me but there's just no way around some things. I feel settled now. (I have) a nice apartment and I get on with all the girls. There is also a better understanding with the coach when he's speaking -- instead of someone translating and feeling like you're a burden on the other players.
We're here in Portland, where Barca have brought their men's and women's teams on tour together for the first time in the club's history
I think it's massive. It's a big message to the world of football. If a club like Barcelona can do it, then why can't other clubs? It's amazing that we can be here alongside the men and the way everyone is integrated in the club. People aren't just walking past you going "Who's that?" They know it's your birthday, they know your name, how you played in the last game, if you scored a goal -- they actually take an interest. There might be other clubs who say they're associated (to a women's team) but do they get that level of recognition? I don't know. I'm just proud to be part of this and the culture and hopefully other teams can follow.
Another thing which could help, especially back in England, would be a successful World Cup in France next summer
We got to the semifinal last time and the recognition back home was massive. Everyone got involved, there were banners, there was media and it was massive. But we didn't see it because we were in Canada. So to see it from the other side (with the men's team this summer) and to see how amazing it was, the whole country came together, it was so positive. In the past, I think it's been negative going into men's tournaments. To see that, it has inspired me to do the same again in France next year. Imagine, now I know what it will be like at home ... I can certainly see us doing it. We have a team capable of doing it. We got to two semifinals in the past four years, which is an amazing achievement, but now we want to go one step better.
There have been some ups and downs with the Mark Sampson stuff and Phil Neville's appointment, but things seem to have calmed down now
Yeah, it's great now having Phil as a manager. He's really settled into the team from the off. He brings enormous amounts of experience, being a champion at Manchester United and the success that he had in his career. I think maybe it's a bit too soon for him to implement his style, we've had two or three trips together, but you can see already what he wants from us and the standards that he sets are high. We're moving in the right direction. We have seven or eight months now until the World Cup and I'm sure we'll be in a great place come France.
What is his style?
At the minute, Phil wants us to get on the ball more. Under Mark, it was more direct, but Phil wants us to be brave, get on the ball, play through the thirds. It's probably similar to what Gareth Southgate was trying to do with the men. I believe it's a good style and a positive way to go. We're trying, but even under Mark, it took four years to nail the game plan. It takes time to build. I'm sure Phil's got that time on his side and come the World Cup we will be there, we will be all guns blazing and we will know the ins and outs of the philosophy.
Tell us about Phil's standards as a coach
From the off, I think someone left a bottle on the training pitch and they were slaughtered for it. You think "It's only a bottle," but they're the standards that are set. One bottle, the next day turns into 20 bottles and (you're) continuously creating a bad environment. From the off, Phil set out the standards: be early, be on time ... everything that you would expect from a champion. Hopefully, those little tiny differences start to show on the pitch -- and no one's left a bottle on the pitch since.
He was very meticulous as a coach at Valencia, has that already come across?
Most coaches attention to detail is very good, it's their job. They have to analyse teams and they have to analyse their own team. But Phil's very diligent at what he does, we have a process and he doesn't really differ from that, he likes to keep it the same on each camp. But things are going to change as we keep building as a team and growing, I am sure he has a few more good things up his sleeve. So far, so good. I am really enjoying it and the rest of the team seem to be happy. He likes to join in in training, too! He's competitive and he doesn't mind putting his foot in!