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Women's coaching thriving in Finland

A coach for 40 years, Anna Signeul has witnessed how progressively more women have stepped into the dugout – as evidenced by her Finland goalkeeper Tinja-Riikka Korpela, who is making her own first steps down the same road.

Finland coach Anna Signeul will head back to Scotland to take on her former team in a vital UEFA Women's EURO qualifier
Finland coach Anna Signeul will head back to Scotland to take on her former team in a vital UEFA Women's EURO qualifier FA of Finland

As someone who has been in charge of women's football teams for 40 years and is still going strong, not many people are better placed to speak about the progression of women in coaching roles than Anna Signeul.

The Finland head coach has been preparing her side for the big UEFA Women's EURO qualifying game with Scotland – a team she led for 12 years and knows very well. While the number of female footballers has grown hugely in that time, it has not necessarily been matched by women moving into coaching, but Signeul can see that changing.

"I have seen an increase in the number of women gaining their coaching diplomas in recent years," she said. "There has been a focus from UEFA to develop and support female coaches and provide women's coaching support to the national associations."

The UEFA coach development programme for women aims to increase the number of qualified female coaches and the number of club and national teams coached by women – two goals which complement the targets of UEFA's overriding strategy for women's football. The programme features scholarship awards, women-only courses, UEFA technical instructor-led workshops and mentorship schemes to achieve these objectives.

Still Finland's No1, Tinja-Rikka Korpela is already looking ahead to the time after her playing career
Still Finland's No1, Tinja-Rikka Korpela is already looking ahead to the time after her playing careerFA of Finland

Progress would seem to be significant, considering the example of the personnel involved in Tuesday's game. Signeul's counterpart in the Scotland dugout, Shelley Kerr, played underneath her, while within her own ranks Finland goalkeeper Tinja-Riikka Korpela has recently completed the UEFA B licence course along with a number of team-mates.

Korpela participated in a Football Association of Finland elite women-only course, and she said: "It was nice to see so many of our women's national team players were interested in taking part." She was one of the beneficiaries of the scholarship scheme, for which 101 UEFA B diploma participants signed up last season – an increase from 27 just four years previously. There have been significant rises in take-up for the Pro, A and C licences too.

The Finnish national team players on the course would have also noticed a familiar face to guide them with Signeul taking them through some elements of the diploma. Seeing someone tread the path before you is a theme to which both ladies return. "I do believe 'You can’t be what you can't see', so it's important that we give young girls role models," said Signeul.

Korpela added: "Examples like Pia Sundhage and Silvia Neid have done such great work and for sure inspired many female players that wish to be a great coach one day themselves. Every young girl should know that it is as normal to aim to be a top player as it is to aim to be a top coach."

On that topic, Signeul – who started coaching at the age of 19 in her native Sweden – said: "I wouldn't be where I am today without Marika Domanski-Lyfors and Pia Sundhage. They believed in me and gave me opportunities to develop. They were my mentors, educators, role models, they opened doors for me and most importantly they inspired me to develop as a football coach."

Korpela will again be in action against Scotland as Finland aim to qualify for Women's EURO
Korpela will again be in action against Scotland as Finland aim to qualify for Women's EUROJuha Tamminen

The aim is to make that type of invaluable guidance more commonplace via a structured approach and Signeul added: "UEFA is doing some really good work in providing mentoring support for these coaches.”

The courses themselves allow for development of skills but also a meeting of minds. "Having access to the most up-to-date coaching techniques and application, access to analysis is really exciting," says Signeul, who is also a UEFA technical observer and technical instructor. "The opportunity to network with other coaches is a really important aspect of the diplomas. That is where I have my sounding boards."

As someone just starting her own coaching journey, Korpela said: "It was interesting to get a first view of what it would be like to be a coach. It made me realise how much work a coach needs to do! It's a lot easier to be 'just a football player'."

On more women taking their badges, Korpela added: "I feel there are fewer barriers now, especially because the current players can see quite a few female coaches in many top leagues." Signeul certainly sees the value in players getting involved before they finish their playing careers, explaining: "It's especially important to develop and grow the pipeline of women coaches in the game and specifically former national team players who understand what it takes."

Speaking of which, how does she feel about facing her old charge? "Shelley has done so well and I am very proud of her. We all need to ensure we continue to increase the opportunities for female coaches in our game." With the four-pronged approach of UEFA's coach development programme for women working alongside the national association, these are opportunities that are certainly being created in Finland.