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UEFA Academy creating female leaders off the pitch

UEFA Women's EURO 2022 demonstrates on-field progress for European women's football, but away from the action there is growing female representation, thanks in part to the UEFA Academy's range of educational programmes.

Participants on the Women in Football Leadership Programme (WFLP)
Participants on the Women in Football Leadership Programme (WFLP) UEFA

Women's football in Europe continues to break new ground, as demonstrated by the record-breaking UEFA Women's EURO 2022 and the incredible success of the reformatted UEFA Women's Champions League.

This on-field progress is perhaps the most eye-catching of the advances being made as part of UEFA's Time For Action women's football strategy, but equally importantly, more and more women are taking up influential leadership positions off the pitch.

One of the important vehicles enabling this change is the UEFA Academy, which offers a variety of learning and development options to help people develop their career within the game.

UEFA chief of women's football, Nadine Kessler, is among the graduates of the Academy's Football Law Programme (UEFA FLP), and Norwegian Football Federation president Lise Klaveness completed the UEFA Executive Master for International Players (UEFA MIP). The UEFA MIP is tailored to helping elite players transfer their skills to a second profession, but there are a range of options for non-players to also enhance their skills.

Among them is the Women in Football Leadership Programme (WFLP) – organised every two years in partnership with FIFA and designed for women who have the potential and motivation to progress into senior leadership positions within their football organisation or who are already in such roles. Participants work on and discuss aspects of leadership, while also focusing heavily on self-awareness and how this can support their career development.

Nadine Kessler, UEFA chief of women's football

"Developing a new generation of female leaders in football is crucial to promote greater gender balance in representative roles across football and its decision-making bodies.

"By identifying talents and providing them with a platform that can unleash potential, elevate their capabilities and, most importantly, empower them to step up and take on leadership opportunities, the WFLP encourages both personal and professional growth."

Below, we feature four women who are taking their careers forward thanks to the UEFA Academy.

The Women's EURO star

 Gaëlle Thalmann
Gaëlle ThalmannUEFA via Getty Images

Switzerland goalkeeper Gaëlle Thalmann played all three of her nation's group matches at Women’s EURO 2022. The 36-year-old has been first choice for her country since 2015. A nomadic career has seen her wear the colours of 15 different clubs in Switzerland, Germany, Italy and finally Spain, where she currently plays for Real Betis, combining the role with being the Swiss Football Association's Playmakers programme manager, working to attract young girls to the game. She completed the UEFA Certificate in Football Management (UEFA CFM):

"I wanted to deepen my knowledge of management and to specialise it for football," she explains. "As I still play in Spain, it would have been impossible to participate in a face-to-face edition, so I took the opportunity to participate in the first-ever UEFA CFM players’ edition online.

"The programme gives me tools for my daily work at the Swiss FA, but above all it allows me to discuss with my peers, to listen to their ideas and experiences, which is very enriching. The exchange with the professors and the participants makes the content livelier and helps deepen the theoretical concepts."

Thalmann believes it is important to encourage female participation in such courses, giving candidates belief that they can succeed.

"In my opinion, it is very important to open all courses to women, as the UEFA Academy does, but also to invite them actively, so they can enlarge their network, and above all to make them visible, because role models help to inspire other women to take the same path. For me, management and leadership are not related to gender, but to skills and emotional intelligence. And that is something both women and men can have. I am absolutely convinced that diversity in leadership helps any company to perform better."

The pro player planning for a second career

Vèronica Boquete
Vèronica BoqueteUEFA

Former Spain international player Vèronica Boquete scored 38 goals in 56 appearances for her country, with a club career that took her all over the world, from her native Spain to the USA, Russia, Sweden, France, Germany and China. Currently playing in Italy for Fiorentina. Boquete is a UEFA women’s football development ambassador and participant in the on-going fourth edition of the UEFA Executive Master for International Players (UEFA MIP).

"I wanted to prepare myself for my career after playing. I want to stay in football, as a coach, as a manager, or as a sporting director and to do that I need to be prepared and have the right knowledge," she says. "The UEFA MIP programme was the best possible option. It gives me some knowledge in all the areas that I did not know yet. There are so many things that happen off the field that you do not realise when you are a player. If you want to become a better executive, learning from the best is always the wisest option and the UEFA MIP brings the best speakers and great contacts."

Boquete believes existing leaders like Kessler and Klaveness will be crucial in opening doors for future leaders.

"We are already going in the right direction, and we already have great female leaders in key positions," she explains. "The fantastic job they are doing will help the rest to come. The mentality of society is changing too and there is more gender equality, there is more respect and appreciation of jobs well done. If you open the doors to everyone then the best will achieve those positions, regardless of whether they are male or female."

The legal leader

Marta Cruz
Marta CruzUEFA

Marta Cruz is the head of the legal department at the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF). She has been a member of the UEFA Appeals Body since June 2020, before which she sat on the UEFA Legal Committee. An experienced lawyer in litigation and arbitration proceedings, and the current deputy director of the Portuguese Sports Law Review, she completed the UEFA Football Law Programme in 2018.

"It is an incredible course for anyone who wants to learn and deepen their knowledge in the field of football law," she explains. "It has the best speakers, with practical perspectives on the subjects, allied to universities that contribute with a deep academic content, without forgetting the endless opportunities for networking.

"It has been an amazing experience which benefited my daily work at the FPF – it enhanced my skills and knowledge, giving me, at the same time, the possibility to exchange points of view with colleagues from other federations and sports organisations."

The ex-athlete

Fiona May
Fiona MayGetty Images for UEFA

Fiona May is a former long jumper who competed first for Great Britain and then Italy, winning two world titles and two Olympic silver medals for her adopted country. In 2017, she became a member of the UEFA Foundation for Children board of trustees and has also served on the UEFA Fair Play and Social Responsibility Committee. From 2016 to 2018, she completed the Executive Master in Global Sport Governance (MESGO), which is delivered by CDES Limoges, the UEFA Academy and a range of sports and academic partners.

"I chose the MESGO because it was an important qualification that I needed as an ex-athlete to apply governance. I needed to learn all aspects of sport behind the scenes," she says. "It developed my sense of leadership and how to improve skills in order to resolve and, more importantly, to support athletes.

We need more women, especially ex-athletes, who have that experience to be given the opportunity to be leaders and bring a positive image for the younger generation. The sporting glass ceiling needs to be broken!"

More about the UEFA Academy

Building on the professional excellence UEFA has established throughout its history and the learning initiatives developed over the last decade, the UEFA Academy inspires the education of individuals and organisations to continuously elevate the game.

Since its foundation, the Academy has trained more than 3,000 graduates from 145 nations around the world. Its programme catalogue contains over 20 learning opportunities on a various range of domains connected to football and sport in general.

UEFA Academy: all the details