Manchester United defender Aoife Mannion has admitted she started to feel a little nervous in the build up to her long-awaited return from action from the ACL injury that had ruled her out for 11 months, before quickly getting back into her stride.
Mannion ruptured her right ACL during last season’s Conti Cup semi-final against Chelsea at the start of February. She finished the game and, other than something not feeling quite right during the half-time interval, the problem didn’t fully become apparent until the next day.
It was very different to the first time she had torn the same ligament while in action for former club Manchester City in a Champions League game a little more than two years earlier.
Surgery was performed at the time and by the summer, Mannion, who is part of United’s senior leadership group alongside Katie Zelem, Ona Batlle and Hayley Ladd, was making good progress in the recovery process. For a long time, her return was earmarked for January.
The 27-year-old was named on the bench for United’s final game of 2022 on 18 December, without the intention of playing but to get back into the swing of a matchday, and was then named in the starting XI for Friday’s mid-season friendly against Birkirkara in Malta.
With manager Marc Skinner making mass changes at half-time in what was eventually a 10-0 win over the Maltese champions, she got 45 vital minutes in her legs.
“I haven’t been that nervous, but in the hours running up to the game, I was thinking, ‘Oh gosh, I’ve actually not played for so long!’” Mannion later told club media.
“It was quite an important day for me personally. But as soon as the whistle went and the ball started rolling, I thankfully felt really comfortable, really confident, and obviously I had a great team around me.
“The girls and the staff have been so supportive. I’ve done this injury twice and one of the things that has made the journey a little bit easier this time is purely the people around me. I’ve been really lucky and I think that has contributed to how good I felt [coming back].”
That closeness has been one of the key features of the United squad this season, underpinning their strong start to the campaign, with players like Ella Toone and Nikita Parris commenting that close bonds off the pitch have directly and positively impacted performances on it.
In the remainder of January, United will face Liverpool when the WSL calendar resumes next weekend, before a trip to Reading on 22 January and the first FA Cup tie of the season against either Blackburn or Sunderland – to be decided this Sunday – a week later.