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Saturday, 30 July 2011

Football Lacks a Feminine Touch

The formation and potential make up of a British Olympic football side has been much discussed recently. Most of the debate has centred on whether the Celtic nations will actually participate, and if they do, what players will form the side that competes for the gold medal on home soil. Also there have been some suggestions as to who should be awarded the spots reserved for those over 23 years of age.

One aspect of the potential GB Olympic side that has not really been given much coverage though, is who should be given the honour of being appointed manager/first team coach. There does however seem to be a general consensus that Stuart Pearce will step up from his duties as England U21 manager. Now, I have nothing against Pearce per se (even though he did once put David James on up front when managing Manchester City) however his appointment shows a real lack of imagination and highlights a deeper problem within the game on these isles.

The path into management is a well-trodden one. Players who have been deemed to display the necessary qualities (determination, professionalism etc.) during there playing days are, if they show the inclination to do so, in high demand when clubs begin the search for someone to step into the managerial “hot-seat”. Depending on the profile of the player, they can often be awarded jobs at the top level of club, and sometimes international, football with no applicable managerial experience. Occasionally the desire to appoint someone of a high profile, or a “fans favourite”, overrides even the lack of a relevant accredited coaching qualification (yes I am thinking of Alan Shearer).

In my opinion, this blinkered approach to managerial appointments has been to the technical, and tactical, detriment of our game.

During the Premier League era there has undoubtedly been a small, if significant move away from the belief that to be a success as a manager you had to have been a success as a player. The likes of Arsene Wenger and Rafael Benitez have shown that the lack of a significant playing career is not necessarily a hindrance when it comes to carving out a career in management.

The appointment by Chelsea, of Andres Villas Boas is even more of a step away from the traditional model. Villas Boas had no playing career to speak of and at 33 is the same age as some of the elder statesmen in his squad of global superstars. To win the much vaunted “respect” of the dressing room he will have to rely on his qualifications, his CV and his training methods being sufficient to impress the likes of John Terry and Didier Drogba.

Villas Boas may very well be an exception, but his appointment led me to consider the amount of untapped coaching potential out there with no route into the game, and more specifically, with the continued rise of the women’s game I began to wonder, could a woman ever be appointed manager of a top level club?

I posed this question on twitter and to people I know involved in (the lower echelons of) the game. The overwhelming consensus was that it would be impossible for a woman, no matter how skilled, to command a dressing room full of battle hardened grizzly footballers. There was almost universal agreement that within those particular confines, sexism was still prevalent. Incidentally while everyone I spoke with agreed that the ingrained sexism still evident in football, would be too large an obstacle to overcome in regards to a female managing a group of males, none would admit to being sexist themselves.

The conclusively negative nature of the responses I garnered, initially led to me dismissing the notion as entirely unrealistic. However after further consideration and debate, it became clear to me that while the chances of a female manager at the top level are remote, there are far fewer stereotypical prejudices to overcome when you begin to consider some of the other technical/coaching positions that are now part and parcel of almost all clubs.

Roles such as; academy director, chief scout and in some cases director of football, are utterly integral to the success of a modern day football club. They are also, crucially, a step removed from the testosterone and machismo of the dressing room. There is nothing to stop these positions being filled by adequately qualified female candidates.

British football is often criticised (fairly or otherwise) for being stuck in the “dark ages”. One of the reasons cited for this is that most coaches come from the same background, with the same thoughts and ideals drummed into them. The woman’s game is much less established and therefore its participants are naturally more open to a new way of thinking. An influx of females into the male game could conceivably bring with it the more modern “enlightened” approach our game is crying out for.

The benefits would not only be restricted to on the pitch matters. Imagine the public relations boost a club would enjoy if a high profile position was filled by, for example, a former England woman’s international. Clubs are always on the lookout for ways to attract new fans through the turnstiles, and this would be one very effective way of marketing yourself as a family orientated club. I admit some would potentially see the appointment as based purely on PR, rather than footballing grounds but that attitude would surely disappear if faced with on, and off pitch success.

To enable any of this to become a reality, there would have to be a concerted effort to encourage more women to take the necessary qualifications. The resulting increase of properly qualified coaches would also have the result of raising standards within the woman’s game itself. As our European counterparts (notably Spain) have proven, the number of qualified coaches is directly proportionate to the level of player produced.

Admittedly clubs may be reluctant to take what may be seen as a radical departure from the norm, and would probably need some encouragement to do so. I see no problems with a system that forces clubs to interview at least one woman when an appropriate position becomes available. The NFL has a similar rule (the Rooney rule) regarding Black and Hispanic candidates for coaching roles and it has been hailed as a success in its remit of raising the ethnic diversity of coaches within the league.

It seems to me that football is disregarding a huge amount of knowledge and potential, for no reason other than, at best traditionalism and at worst institutionalised sexism and I personally would have no problems with a woman occupying a high profile role at my club (or country).

I genuinely believe that the acceptance of women into high profile, technical roles, within the men’s game could be of great benefit to all concerned.

I would be very interested to get some further opinions on this matter? Maybe you agree with me, or maybe you think the male and female games are better off without any crossover? Either way would love to know your thoughts either on the comments section or via twitter.

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