One of Wales's key ambitions as hosts of the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship was to ensure that it left a lasting legacy for women's football.
Osian Roberts, the Football Association of Wales (FAW) technical director, was among the 1,000-plus crowd at Parc y Scarlets as Wales lost 3-0 against England, but he is convinced that staging this Women's U19 tournament will be a pivotal moment in developing the female game in the country. Roberts, a UEFA Pro licence instructor and coach with the senior men's national team, picked out the technical positives as he reflected both on Thursday's match and on the forward strides taken.
"There have been massive improvements over the last five years," he told UEFA.com. "Fitness levels have come on leaps and bounds as the girls look after themselves properly and apply themselves correctly. They adhere to strict programmes and have improved physically. On the ball we are also making progress in technical ability and style of play. However, it takes time, and the quality of opposition in this tournament can make it difficult to find time and space, but it was pleasing to see the girls try to play out of the back.
"By the time they reach the senior squad, they will be all the better for playing the game the right way. Looking at longer-term development, we are closing the gap on more-established nations, and the next generation who come through will benefit from better coaching as well as from the structured development plan now in place from a younger age. Tactically, I didn't think there was much between the sides, so we have made significant progress."
Coach education is a central part of Roberts's work, and while he acknowledges the improvements made by Wales's young female footballers, he also believes the finals can have an enduring impact in encouraging more women to think about coaching. "We hold female-specific coaching courses, and it is pleasing that a lot more women are becoming involved," he said. "It is vitally important that the tournament leaves a legacy in this area. Players from the women's senior squad have started taking coaching badges, which is very encouraging."
Jayne Ludlow is a notable figure in the relatively short history of Welsh women's football, and the former Arsenal LFC midfielder has been appointed manager of the national women's U16 team as she completes her UEFA A licence. "Jayne is the first female manager we have had in the international set-up," Roberts said. "We want female coaches to come through and emulate this achievement.
"As part of our education project, a coach mentor programme is being run during the tournament with every game analysed by our female coaches. The product of this will be a comprehensive technical report, and from this we can implement what we learn from other teams. The coaches involved have different tasks and areas to study – it shows that a lot of things are happening to help develop our coaches as well as our players, and this tournament is the catalyst."
From his position with the FAW, Roberts approaches the championship from a different angle – yet he closes by echoing a popular statement. "Inspiring young girls to play football will be the biggest legacy of this tournament. Lots of events are happening at each game, and if we can grow the women's game at grassroots level it will make our girls teams and our Women's Premier League stronger in the long term, purely from the enthusiasm this tournament has generated." Wales may have been eliminated at the group stage, but the bigger picture is a much brighter one.
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