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What does it take to win the UEFA Women's Champions League?

UEFA has been supporting football-related academic research projects through its Research Grant Programme since 2010. Two academics, Edson Filho and Jean Rettig, present one such study on performance in elite women’s football.

Lyon celebrate winning the 2016/17 UEFA Women's Champions League
Lyon celebrate winning the 2016/17 UEFA Women's Champions League ©UEFA

Why we carried out this research

Most previous research in football has focused on the men’s game. Given that football has become an increasingly popular sport among girls and women around the world, we decided to examine the factors that lead to successful performance in the top competition in women’s club football – the UEFA Women’s Champions League. We reasoned that, in order to promote gender balance in sports and advance best practice guidelines to inform the education of coaches and practitioners, we should study the unique factors related to successful performance in women’s football.

How we went about it

Excellence in football depends on individual psychology, group psychology and broader contextual factors, including country-specific characteristics. Accordingly, we conducted a hierarchical, multilevel analysis to profile the characteristics of successful coaches, teams and countries participating in the Women’s Champions League over the past five seasons.

What we found

Our findings highlight that coaching experience, the quality of the team as a whole, the cross-cultural effects of having an international roster, and the strength of women’s football at national level are key factors for success in the Women’s Champions League.

Coaching experience matters

Experienced coaches are more likely to be successful than newcomers, and the coaches with the most experience in the Women’s Champions League itself have the highest chances of success. An alternative interpretation is that successful coaches keep their jobs for longer. Either way, preventing frequent coach turnover may boost team performance and, in the long term, help to regulate coach education and salaries.

The team comes first

Successful teams in the Women’s Champions League win because of the quality of the team as a whole. Football managers should invest wisely – spending significant resources on a single player or a few star players might not produce the best outcomes, and may contribute to an overinflation of salaries.

The benefits of diversity

Internationalisation is a good thing, as diverse, multicultural teams are more likely to be successful. Players with different backgrounds approach the game from different cultural perspectives and use different defensive and offensive tactics, ultimately contributing to improved team performance.

Stronger countries, stronger teams, stronger players

We found a relationship between the FIFA world rankings and performance in the Women’s Champions League. To raise the standard of women’s football around the world, it is paramount to create educational and financial initiatives to get young girls to play football, particularly in countries where women’s football is less developed and practised.

Edson Filho is a lecturer in sport psychology at the University of Central Lancashire. His main interests include the study of expert individuals and high-performing teams in sport, music and the performing arts.

Jean Rettig is an adjunct professor at Florida State University. Her research interests centre around student-athlete engagement and team dynamics in sport.

This article originally appeared in UEFA Direct 174