I'd coach a men's team, reveals Powell
England’s coach would consider offers to manage male teams but will be happy as women’s performance director
Reflecting on the most successful year ever for English women’s football the national team manager, Hope Powell, looks as much exhausted as elated. The 42-year-old, whose role encompasses overseeing the entire structure of the sport – from grassroots to the elite level – steered the England senior team to their first European Championship final in 25 years last summer and Mo Marley’s England Under?19 side won the European trophy.
On the domestic front, life has been no less quiet, with planning ongoing for the new women’s summer league, in operation from 2011, and applications from clubs wanting to sign up pouring in already. But, Powell says, that league may already be a year too late, with five of England’s best already playing in the US professional league and Katie Chapman, England’s outstanding player at the European Championship, signed up for next season.
Powell sighs. In women’s football there are more problems than solutions. Overlooking the Wembley pitch as she speaks, the stadium itself is a reminder of the obstacles the game faces – women’s football is still waiting for an invitation to play at the national stadium.
More intriguing invitations may yet be afoot, however. Following England’s success in reaching the European final, Powell was rumoured to be in the running for the manager’s job at Grimsby Town. She denies she was even approached, but the headlines promoted widespread speculation about whether a woman could coach in the men’s game. Interestingly, Powell says she is open to the idea. “If an opportunity presented itself that I fancied I’m going to look at it. It doesn’t mean I’m going to take it.”
Powell, who has coached boys’ teams in this country and in the US, also rejects the idea that there is much difference. “It’s just football for me.”
She was fascinated by the attention she received at the time. “It was very bizarre,” she says. “I kind of took it as a compliment really. I said it wasn’t true but I still had the press following me up to Blackpool [for the World Cup qualifying win against Malta] and press outside my door.” As a figure known for being intensely private, would that kind of attention put her off? “No. See the package. Do six months. Retire on £6.2m,” she says with a grin.
“I think for the first female that does this, and one day I’m sure it will happen whoever it might be, the press will be phenomenal. It would probably hinder that person doing that job. And if they failed it would be, ‘Well, there you go, that’s why a woman shouldn’t be in men’s football’, and if they did OK it would be a really difficult position for that person to be in. Really tough.”
For now, though, Powell’s thoughts are still occupied by the European Championship final defeat in Helsinki. “I was bitterly disappointed,” she says of the 6-2 defeat to Germany.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get over it to be honest, unless we win it [another time]. You wish you could play the game again because you would know how to cope. I think we all felt that. The most important thing is that we will learn from it. The players have really taken on board the margins between silver and gold, they are so small.”
Against the weight of Germany’s experience of two World Cup wins and seven European titles, England were always at a disadvantage, but Powell still believes her team could have won it. “I don’t think it was one game too many for us. When I watched it back it was a close game, even though they scored six,” she adds with a wry smile.
Powell says she is hungry for more, but she is honest enough to admit that after 11 years she is ready for a change. Most expect that the role of performance director will be created for her, perhaps even before the next World Cup in 2011, with Marley, who is only the second woman in England to hold the Uefa Pro licence, to take over the senior team.
“I would hope to be doing it [before the next World Cup],” says Powell. “It depends on the timing. I’m particularly conscious that the clubs and centres need some attention and I find I’m dipping in and out. I want to share my expertise a bit more to help the game and move it along.”
Copyright © 2009 Guardian News & Media Limited 2009