When Hope Powell became England's first full-time women's national-team manager in 1998, she was 31 and took over a side which had failed to reach the previous year's UEFA European Women's Championship finals. On Thursday, the longest-serving coach at UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ led England in the continental final and was only a 6-2 defeat against Germany away from her nation's first senior honour since the 1966 FIFA World Cup in the year Powell was born.
Powell had been a long-serving international, who played in England's previous final appearance in the two-legged inaugural 1984 decider, losing to Sweden. However, when she was appointed manager - a wide-ranging role created by then Football Association technical director Howard Wilkinson involving the youth teams and supervision of the club game - she had no experience or even the advertised coaching qualifications. She has since become the first woman to obtain a UEFA Pro Licence, while her coaching system produced the side that reached the UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ final and the one that won the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship for the first time last month.
"One of my objectives, which I put in place last year with all the coaches, is we have to qualify for major tournaments," Powell said. "The experience of this has been phenomenal; six games, getting to a final. We've never experienced that before, unlike Germany. It makes you stronger; you learn some lessons, you go back, you work harder and make sure you're in it again."
England have come a long way from when Powell was playing – despite the European final and 1995 FIFA Women's World Cup last-eight run. Although stalwarts like Faye White and Kelly Smith remain from Powell's own playing days, several crops of young talent have ensured she has had an increasing number of options to pick from; whether calling up teenagers Eniola Aluko and Karen Carney for UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™ on home soil or this time picking 20-year-olds Danielle Buet and Jessica Clarke ahead of the experienced Rachael Yankey.
In 2005, England fell in the group stage, unable to build on an opening win against Finland in front of a competition-record 29,092 crowd in Manchester. However, Powell's selection of a young squad then has reaped dividends as in Finland she had a party, though still with an average age of around 25, with experience from the 2005 finals and the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup, where they reached the last eight. The core of this squad will remain for the next couple of final tournaments too and even if, say, Smith's injuries continue to restrict her international career, in Carney and Aluko as well as Clarke, Buet and others there is plenty of talent to ensure England no longer need rely on the perennial FIFA Women's World Player of the Year nominee. The proposed summer Super League to begin in 2011 could move the English women's game on to yet another plane. "The future looks bright," Powell concluded.
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