We highlight a fifth group of women leading the development of European football as we look ahead to a huge 12 months.
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Earlier this year, UEFA launched a new campaign to highlight the game-changing impact that women are making on the European football community.
Over the past five months, we have focused on five individuals whose dedication is helping to shape the present and future of football – at all levels of the game.
Whether on the pitch, on the touchline or in the boardroom, each of our featured trailblazers has an inspiring story to tell, setting the perfect example for more women and girls to make their own mark in the game.
With less than a year until the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 in England and the launch of the new UEFA Women's Champions League format, featuring a global broadcast deal, it promises to be a huge 12 months. Here are five women who will ensure the game continues to grow on a steep trajectory.
• Caroline Seger, Rosengard midfielder and record-setting Sweden international
• Zahra Khamisa, FA city partnership development officer, Women's EURO 2022
• Wendie Renard, Olympigue Lyonnais captain and France international
• Carolina Morace, Italian legend, broadcaster and head coach of Lazio Women
• Katrien Jans, Royal Belgian FA women's football manager
Caroline Seger: 'Have a lot of fun, fight hard and believe in yourself!'
The only active European with over 200 caps, midfielder Seger made a record 215th appearance for the Swedish national team in June. A UEFA Women’s Champions League winner and a veteran of 11 major tournaments, she could still add at least the Olympic Games and Women’s EURO 2022 to that total over the next 12 months.
What changes have you seen in the women's game since you started playing, and what do you think is to come?
"Everything has changed, I would say, both technically and physically. When I started, we were playing long balls, but a lot of improvement has happened and the World Cup in 2019 showed how good the level is now, and not only in countries that have always been successful. I wish I was 20 again and could play my best years now but I'm happy that I've been along for this ride and experienced both ups and downs in women's football and contributed to the development and growth of the game. Looking ahead, the game will be even faster and better. This will attract more fans, more sponsors, more money. This is what we need to further grow women’s football.
What will that tournament mean for you and for the game?
"UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 will show how much potential there is in women's football. All over the continent, the women's game is growing but especially in England there is a huge development, and it’s great that the Women’s EURO will take place there. They’re putting a lot of money into the league right now. I think for the fans and for us players, it's going to be one of the biggest tournaments we have ever experienced. I am still motivated, and I keep my body in shape. There's still a gold medal that I would like to win with the national team."
What does it feel like to be a role model for girls and women?
"It's cool that the young people have someone to look up to. Nowadays, they can see us on TV and follow us around the world. I try to do my best and to be a good role model every day, on and off the field. Girls can see that they can become the very best of themselves if they want to, and they have dreams. So I'm very proud to call myself a role model. If other people say I am. My advice for girls is to have a lot of fun, fight hard and believe in yourself. It's going to be tough to be successful, but you have all the possibilities to be and become your very best."
Zahra Khamisa: 'I want other people to know that there’s a place for them in sport!'
Canadian-born Zahra Khamisa is a host city development officer for UEFA Women's EURO 2022, also leading on diversity and inclusion work to help create a legacy for the tournament that will attract thousands more women and girls to the game. After studying kinesiology, she also worked in both cycling and cricket before joining The Football Association.
How motivating is it to know that UEFA Women's EURO 2022 will create a brighter future for girls and women in football?
"It’s exciting to be working on something that’s never been done before. There are endless possibilities for the Women's EURO to change women’s and girls’ football in local areas all over the country. We launched our legacy programme with the overall ambition to create 500,000 new footballing opportunities by 2024, across five categories: early years, development years, adult recreation, coaching and refereeing. The tournament will allow us to amplify all of our work, with every match on free-to-air TV, so we will be reaching the little girl or boy who’s never watched football. Once there is that inspiration and increase in demand, we need to make sure that structures are already in place where people can go and play."
How important is it to provide role models within the sport for women from under-represented communities to get involved?
"It used to be that when I walked into a room, I would count how many women were there, and now it’s about how many women that look like me are there - I want to inspire other people to know that there’s a place for them in sport. You don’t have to be an experienced player or an expert to work in sport, there are roles for everyone, but they need support. We have to try and understand what barriers exist to prevent people from getting involved, and introduce solutions at different levels, in terms of inclusive language and welcoming atmospheres, and that’s where it's important to see role models and the right representation."
What have your own experiences been of your career in sport?
"I have worked in quite male-dominated environments, and sometimes people can assume things about you, so it feels like you have to build credibility, you have to build trust, you have to show different skills and I don’t think it’s easy. It’s important to have mentors to relate to, to seek help and to be brave in these types of roles. A lot of our legacy work for Women's EURO 2022 is around creating these inclusive environments for women and girls to feel safe, to feel welcome and to feel like they can play or contribute however they want to."
Wendie Renard: 'We have to fight for more for the next generation!'
A seven-time UEFA Women's Champions League winner, Wendie Renard captained Lyon to five titles in a row between 2016 and 2020. A tall centre-back with an incredible goalscoring record, Renard is from the Caribbean French territory of Martinique, where to most young girls, a career in European football would seem a distant dream.
Growing up in Martinique, did becoming a professional footballer feel unlikely?
"It was rare for girls to play football, so it was even rarer that it was the women in my family who pushed me to play. They loved football as much as me. My aunt was a referee, my mum played a little and watched matches all the time. When we got to school, we’d have those career assessment sort of things. My teacher asked the class, 'What do you want to do for a living?'. I wrote down two. 'Professional football player. Flight attendant.' My teacher came around to see our work and then she stopped by my desk. She picked up my paper, glanced at it, and then looked back at me. 'Wendie, it doesn’t exist,' she said, pointing to my first job. 'You have to change it. That job doesn’t exist.' To me, it was simple. It was the only thing that mattered. I wasn’t even angry because, to me, it wasn’t a question of whether this could happen. It was going to."
Did you have sporting role models to look up to? How important is that for young girls?
"I liked the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena. When I was very young, we talked about them a lot. What they’ve done is really powerful and their stories are stories of hard work. Hard work, sacrifice, and never giving up. I like that. I’ll never forget the previous generations who fought for us. It is a succession of things. Women before us fought and obtained things and now, we’re getting more and we have to fight for the next generation of women so they can have even more. We have to move forward and fight with what we have, and then win, in order to continue developing."
How motivated are you for more success with the new UEFA Women's Champions League format and broadcast deal with DAZN and YouTube?
"Growing up, I had this objective of winning titles - we did this together at Lyon and it's not over yet. We'll keep writing history. People will like the new competition structure and it will be even more interesting when the level goes up a notch and offers new opportunities for clubs. Being on YouTube, it will be exceptional, because it's something that is accessible to everyone. In terms of visibility, and for kids, it's huge."
Carolina Morace: 'You don’t win with 11 players, you win with the whole squad!'
A UEFA Pro Licence holder and the first woman to coach a professional men's team, former professional Carolina Morace has also taken charge of the women’s national team in Italy and is now head coach of Lazio Women, combining the role with commentary on Italian TV.
What is your recipe for success as a coach?
"I never won in an environment where there was no harmony, and you create harmony by talking to all the players - I always treat everyone in the same way. That comes naturally to me. They are all my players and my job is to help them all improve. To me, it is crucial to have the whole group with you. You don’t win with 11 players, you win with the support of your whole squad. In a team sport, what matters is the team."
How can coaches continue to help develop the women’s game?
"I am passionate and don’t only watch women’s football, I watch it all. I follow men’s football as it keeps evolving. When I see something new, I pick up the phone and call other coaches to ask how and why they did it and to learn from them. Women’s football can still grow a lot but it relies on us coaches. If every coach shares their knowledge, we can develop the game together. One of the greatest innovations in recent years is playing out from the back, starting from the goalkeeper. For example, at EURO 2020, the Italian national team press very high on the pitch. The best men’s teams in Europe, from Liverpool to Paris Saint-Germain, they all press high on the pitch. I haven’t seen those technical details in women’s football yet and, in my opinion, that’s going to be the next step. If we improve on the technical details, we can offer a better spectacle."
What will be the biggest drivers of the game in the next couple of years?
"The fact that men's professional football teams took on women is fundamental for the growth of women’s football. Fathers support a club and they take their daughters to play in those clubs like Lazio, Roma, Juventus, Inter. Thanks to the big clubs and their supporters, we will have more fans and more exposure. Next year’s Women’s EURO will attract the attention of football fans across Europe and people will be more passionate about their female national team."
Katrien Jans: 'Soon, all girls will be able to dream of becoming a professional!'
Katrien Jans has been head of women's football at the Royal Belgian FA for two years, developing the game at all levels from grassroots to the national team. A former player in Belgium's top division, she has worked in the organisation for more than eight years, and last summer, oversaw the launch of the new Women's Super League in Belgium. She has high hopes that 2022 will take the game to the next level.
Was it frustrating being such a good player without the infrastructure to support a full-time career, and how much does that drive you on now?
"I stopped playing ten or 11 years ago and within two or three years, women’s football started to change and become more professional. For me, it was always: 'Okay, I will study, I am going to work, there will be a time I have to quit football,' but I think if a professional career was possible, I would have trained harder and taken it even more seriously than I did to achieve that dream. I love my role now because women's football has always been my passion, and I never thought when I was younger that this job would be a possibility. I hope that soon, all girls will be able to dream of becoming a professional, and that there are no barriers to playing football."
You also work closely with the men's side of the organisation – how do the two teams support each other?
"As the women’s game is still much younger than the men’s game, we can learn a lot and lean on their experiences in growing the game. If I look at our federation, we work together on many projects, for example we started a coach education course for national team players, and men's coach Roberto Martinez really liked the idea, so now, the men’s national team are doing the same. On the other side, they give us information on how they scout players, which is a real plus for us. It is good to see the men's game support the growth of women's football, it needs expertise and investment, and it's great to also see clubs investing more in professional environments for women's teams."
What are you hoping for Women's EURO 2022 and beyond?
"In 2017, we went out in the first round, so now going further will definitely be the objective for the Belgium team. For women’s football in general, we’re seeing that the big tournaments are also an influence on grassroots and participation but also in driving sponsorship, so it's a virtuous circle. We saw participation rise 17% in 2017, so we hope to see similar again in 2022. Further ahead, I would be very happy if we could reach the goal of bringing a Women's World Cup, together with the Netherlands and Germany, to Belgium - that would have a really great impact on women’s football."