Former Wales captain Jayne Ludlow has been appointed national coach, and paid tribute to predecessor Jarmo Matikainen with the team in their strongest-ever position.
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Former international Jayne Ludlow has been appointed Wales manager to succeed the departing Jarmo Matikainen, who leaves his post after four years in charge.
Described by her Finnish predecessor as "the most successful player that Wales has ever had", Ludlow was unveiled by the Football Association of Wales (FAW) at a press conference in Cardiff on Thursday afternoon. Currently completing her studies for the UEFA Pro-Licence, the 35-year-old recently took charge of the Wales Under-17 and U19 sides, and since retiring following a long club career with Arsenal LFC in 2013, has been managing Reading WFC.
"I'm extremely happy and very proud," said Ludlow. "It's a happy feeling for me. I'm excited for the future. The women's game in Wales has changed and Jarmo has played a huge part in that. I'm grateful for the position he has left it in.
"I know the players want to get to the finals of a major tournament," she added. "Coming home and taking this role is about developing a structure. It's huge role, it encompasses every single age group. I want them to achieve something I never achieved. "
As a midfielder, Ludlow played 61 games for Wales and scored 19 international goals between 1996 and 2012. Arsenal's all-time record goalscorer, she spent 13 years at the club, winning 11 league titles, eight FA Women's Cups and the 2006/07 UEFA Women's Cup.
She takes charge of a national team in its strongest position in its history. Wales narrowly missed out on a play-off place for the FIFA Women's World Cup after finishing third in what was the side's most successful qualification campaign. Influenced by talismanic captain Jess Fishlock, Wales won six of their ten qualifying fixtures and missed out on a play-off place with defeat against eventual group runners-up Ukraine on the final matchday.
"When you're a young kid watching male teams, there was always a desire from myself to play for my country and captain my country," Ludlow said. "I did it, and I enjoyed every minute of it, but this challenge is more exciting because of the impact and effect that I can have. I had a good relationship with Jarmo, and having worked as his assistant, I have taken a lot of his influences on board."
Wales, who have risen to an all-time highest UEFA ranking of 20th, will discover their opponents for UEFA Women's EURO 2017 qualifying on 13 April. The road to the expanded 16-team finals begin later in the year.