Pedro López rated the victory in Belfast as a motive for profound satisfaction: ‘another step’ in the development of players for the senior team and for the future of women’s football in his country. “
The success is down to all the people who dedicate time and effort to our women’s teams and, looking forward, I hope it transmits the fact that we have great players in Spain.”
His ability to take the longer perspective is based on a long service record with Spain’s age-limit teams, building on the best part of a decade of experience with the Under-16s, followed by a step on to UEFA’s international stage with the U17s. Winning the European title in 2015 provided the basis for success in Belfast, where ten of the champions in Iceland – half of them voted into UEFA’s Team of the Tournament – lifted a second trophy. Going to the senior World Cup in 2015 as assistant and then leading Spain at the U20 World Cup in Papua New Guinea a year later add to the curriculum of one of the most experienced youth development coaches in the women’s game.
And ‘development’ has been the key word. He recalls his early days when the main ambition was to reduce the enormous gulf between the leading nations and those aspiring to a degree of grandeur. He set about the task with diligence and professional attention to detail. “We have been fortunate,” he concedes, “not only to qualify for so many final tournaments but also to have reached the semi-finals or final in most of them. We have noted a big difference between the development of players exposed to international experience and those who have not enjoyed that opportunity.”
His ability to usher young players along development pathways is based on personalised dossiers on each individual and video evidence gleaned from the recording of training sessions by cameras and drones. He values the latter “because they give you a much better perspective in terms of aspects like assessing the distances between players or between lines.” Pre-match work features video sessions aimed at encouraging the players to understand what they are being asked to train and the thinking behind game plans. Although three set plays won the final in Belfast, he regrets not having more time to work on them – though at the regular training camps, dead-ball practice features in two sessions during the week. “In the mornings,” he adds, “when the players are more alert.”
One of the key factors behind five age-limit titles and a string of finals is the coaching family which embraces Spain’s national teams. “We are a group of five coaches,” he explains, “who work with all the women’s teams at our national training centre in Las Rozas. It means we know all the players and can design and modify our development strategy together.” In practice, this translates into a rotation of roles. In Northern Ireland, for example, the assistant was Spain’s U17 coach, Toña Is who, immediately before, had also been a member of Jorge Vilda’s coaching staff at the senior EURO in the Netherlands.
Success in Belfast provided an enormous satisfaction after three straight final defeats. But the moment of jubilation didn’t cloud the longer-term issues. “Our objective was to qualify for the World Cup,” he admitted, “because the gap after U19 level is big and this will give us another year to work with this group and to give them more experience that will be valuable on the road towards the senior team.”