To put Hope Powell's England reign into perspective, from her appointment in 1998 to her departure following UEFA Women's EURO 2013 last summer, the men's national team had six different head coaches, not counting caretakers.
Powell, then 31 and still a player, was a surprise choice as England's first full-time women's national coach. In the 15 years and 162 games that followed they went from a side that did not qualify for the 1997 UEFA European Women's Championship to making the next four EUROs, finishing runners-up in 2009; reaching the 2007 and 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup quarter-finals; and providing the bulk of the Great Britain squad under Powell that got to the 2012 Olympic quarter-finals by beating Brazil at a packed Wembley.
Meanwhile Powell oversaw the creation of a network of youth teams, winning the 2009 UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship, and brought a new professional attitude to the game that led to the recent setting up of the televised FA Women's Super League. Though an early exit from UEFA Women's EURO 2013 brought Powell's long tenure to a close, there are plenty of highlights to assess as she recounts her England story for UEFA.com.
UEFA: Are there any particular moments from your 15 years in charge that stand out?
Hope Powell: There's a couple actually, you know we had some great times. It was a very long career, very demanding, but there were more good moments than bad. I think [UEFA Women's EURO 2013] was the bad point, but
I would say probably qualifying for the 2007 World Cup was a real highlight, having not qualified in 12 years. That was a real turning point for the England team and an enjoyable moment. I think also, while it wasn't England, Team GB and the experience of coaching at the Olympics was another incredible moment for me. So I would say probably those two events.
UEFA.com: Can you explain the difference between women's football in this country when you started the job, and the female game when you finished last year?
Powell: Goodness. Huge, I mean the strides that have been taken in this country have been huge and unrecognisable. I think when I started it was a blank sheet of paper. I'm not quite sure where everybody thought it was going.
So what I did was use my experiences as a player and just tried to work from there. I think we probably had one national team, now there are five [including U21s etc.]. We didn't have any media attention, now the media are all over us.
Players weren't training every day, now they're training every day. They're fitter, faster, they've got more female coaches coming through, there's a new league. So everything has just developed and it's just trying to do the best for the game and developing players. The success we've had has just meant the game has continued to change. So it's radically different.
UEFA.com: You mentioned how it was a blank sheet of paper; that must have been quite exciting but also quite scary – a step into the unknown.
Powell: I went straight from a player into management so it was almost like: "OK." [Football Association technical director] Howard Wilkinson was very supportive and I think you base it around the experiences you have as a player. Well I did anyway.
I based it around what I thought was good when I was being coached and perhaps some of the things I didn't quite like. So it was all very personal to me and that was my starting point. I thought: "Training twice a day? Yep, I think it's a good thing, so we'll keep that .... but maybe not start as early!"
One of the big things was we didn't have enough international matches. When I compared it with everybody else, we were way down and I just think having that international experience developed us even more. We weren't strong enough, fit enough, so I introduced a conditioning programme. There are all those little things that as a player I thought: "Hmmm, if I ever have the opportunity to do that ..." Then I got the opportunity to implement it, which I did.
UEFA.com: Now there's the FA Women's Super League which is huge for the game in this country.
Powell: It's still early days as it's the third season but I think it wasn't just about the playing, it was the whole benefit around changing the league and the important thing was having a summer league. Not competing against men's football, reducing the number of teams to make it more competitive, increasing the fan base – it wasn't just about the football, it was about the entire game and how we were moving forward.
Certainly, moving from winter to summer and reducing the number of teams has meant ... Number one: more fan base; number two: the league becomes more competitive. So the best players, if they want to play, they're going to have to move clubs. Before it was 12 teams, so reducing to eight means the league will be more competitive. I guess the downside is the length of the season, which is something that is being worked on. And opening up a second tier – so there's promotion and relegation – will happen in 2014. But all in all, it's a positive move.
UEFA.com: Right now, clubs like Manchester City are coming onto the scene. That link with established teams can only be a good thing, right?
Powell: Yes it can. The danger is that all the best players again flood to one team. We had that situation with Arsenal, so there's been a lot of movement at the end of this season. I think one of the main things for the league was to produce better English players. You've also got the influx of foreign players which you can't avoid. You've got players migrating to one team as well, so hopefully that won't have a detrimental effect. Only time will tell.
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