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Women Managing In The Premier League? Why We’re Not As Far As People Think

Over the past few weeks I’ve asked friends and family a question: when do you think we’ll first see a woman manage a Premier League team? It became a heavily debated topic, with some laughing and saying “not in my lifetime” rather jokingly but ignorantly as well, with others respectfully saying “I hope soon, I just don’t see it happening with the way the game is going”.

It’s all a matter of opinion. No one can predict the thoughts and desires of a Premier League chairman when his club approach potential candidates for the Head Coach/Manager’s job. However, we all know one thing that is fact. With men working heavily in women’s football, women can be just as involved in men’s football as well. So, why isn’t it happening? And how far are we from finally seeing a woman take control of a club in the biggest league in the world? So, what did I consider in my research? There were a few things I really wanted to look into: how many woman managers are currently experiencing success in women’s football and how well women’s football is doing in general.

The current best 4 ranked football clubs in women’s football are: Olympique Lyon Feminin, Wolfsburg Ladies, PSG Ladies and Frankfurt Ladies. All four clubs are managed by men; Gerard Precheur, Ralf Kellerman, Patrice Lair and Matt Ross respectively. This is a slightly worrying sign for women’s football because it could be argued by some that the success of women’s clubs is down to management and coaching by men. However, I didn’t stop there, these were just four teams from many successful women’s squads out there.

The natural next stop for me was to look at the Women’s Super League. When researching the league consisting of nine teams, I was further disappointed when discovering that of the nine teams, only three are managed or coached by women. However, Chelsea Ladies, one of the most successful women’s clubs in the world are managed by Emma Hayes, who has experienced much success with the club.

So far, I’m discovering many men are involved in the running of women’s football teams, perhaps more than I thought. However, I then came across something truly eye-opening. Back in 1972, just 45 years ago, the FA, advised by UEFA, lifted a 50 year ban on women playing football on football league grounds. This is an outstanding bit of history, a ban I didn’t think would or could ever exist, and one I certainly imagined would have been lifted more than just 45 years ago. This tells me that women’s football, in England especially, is far more backward than I first imagined.

That year, England’s Lionesses had their first international fixture against Scotland, winning 3-2 almost 100 years after the first international match of the men’s England team. This really surprised me. Women’s football in England is therefore 100 years younger than the men’s, and the difference in quality in the game is explained with this simple fact. How do you expect to inspire a generation when only 45 years ago England held their first women’s international. Managers usually hit their peak after the age of 40, so it can’t be surprising that no woman has, of yet, broken into a managerial job in men’s football.

Since 1998 and up until 2013, the England managers role was held by Hope Powell, who led the team into several major tournaments, and has since got a job at the PFA as the first ever women’s coach educator for young aspiring woman coaches. She’s looking to make a difference for the younger generation, however I have to wonder, why could she have not been considered for a job in men’s football as she served her country so well?

Well, inspiration in sport is generally created at major tournaments and competitions. The Olympics is a classic example of a sporting event that inspires a nation. You only have to see the success of Team GB in Rio 2016 to understand the impact London 2012 had on everyone. It’s a real feel good factor that gets youngsters out on the streets and in the parks recreating their heroes finest moments with the name on the back of the shirt.

So can we expect the same from the Women’s World Cup? Well, after the success Mark Sampson’s team had in Canada, you’d hope that young women have taken inspiration, and yes I do expect the England side to do even better in France 2019. However, there’s more inspiration for women to take out of the Women’s World Cup than people know. In fact, the top 4 sides at Canada 2015 were USA, Japan, England and Germany – all but England were coached by women. Adding to that, three of the last four Women’s World Champions have been coached by a woman. This to me shows outstanding progress for woman’s coaching, especially as the first three World Cups were won by men.

If we fast forward now to 2017, where is women’s football and coaching today? Well, opportunities are very slowly but surely being presented to women around the world. In June 2014, Helena Costa resigned from her post as manager of French Ligue 2 side Clermont Foot just 49 days after getting the job. She said her emails were being ignored by the board, and players didn’t have respect for her. This is something women will have to fight in the future, as unfortunate as it is, it won’t be easy to eradicate. In fact, clubs must take some responsibility in backing their managers, and the fact she walked away after what seemed like a real breakthrough for women’s football is really unfortunate. Chan Yuan-Ting took charge of Eastern and won the Hong Kong Premier League just recently, the first ever men’s top division title to be won by a woman. So, slowly but surely, things are moving in the right direction.

I do believe there are some very simple ways that FIFA can help to solve these issues though. Firstly, the fact that the women’s World Cup runs in separate years to the men’s is beyond me. Like Wimbledon in Tennis, the two tournaments should happen simultaneously, to give everyone football fever at the same time and keep people interested with what happens in the women’s game too. Unfortunately, the Women’s World Cup can be too easily forgotten about until the latter stages. I believe women in high positions in football clubs like Karren Brady (CEO) at West Ham and Alyson Rudd who’s a journalist for The Times are also a real inspiration for young female football enthusiasts. Alyson Rudd is often on a show called The Sunday Supplement on Sky Sports and speaks very intelligently about football, often with many intriguing insights and experiences of her own. Having a ‘football brain’ is not a man’s characteristic, but one that women haven’t expressed enough so far.

My mother herself often has great views and ideas with regards to football, and sits down to watch most of the games with us. She’s as passionate as the rest of the family, and I know she’d be a tough enough cookie to run a team of men herself – in fact, I’m pretty sure that’s what she does at work (it’s definitely what she does around the house). Having said all that, she is a passionate member (and I’m fairly certain, co-founder) of the Wenger Out Brigade, so who knows if she could really run a team with views like that!

Overall, I do believe women’s football is playing catch up and doing it quickly, quicker than people think. With women’s tennis not at the level of men’s, it still has a lot of support and a big following during major tournaments especially – and football can replicate this. Andy Murray was comfortable being coached by a woman, and there’s no reason why the same can’t happen in football.

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