Football is willing to take seriously the experience that the women’s game can bestow on a manager, but will it give opportunities to women managers?
Clermont Foot. Stirling University. BV Cloppenburg. Three niche teams from France, Scotland and Germany, all of which made history for their appointment of women as managers of men’s teams. Within the past five years, these clubs generated significant media attention as Corinne Diacre, Shelley Kerr and Imke Wübbenhorst respectively became trailblazers within the game. But these appointments did not prompt a tidal wave of inclusion with men’s football management, and none of the three are still in men’s football. So when will we start to see more women managing in the men’s game?
Historically, the chances of women managing any football team has been pretty low. Between 2000 and 2009, only one woman won the FA Cup as manager (Gill Wylies in 2000 with Croydon Ladies). Recent editions of the Women’s Super League have seen as few as four teams managed by women, but that is starting to shift. Between 2010 and 2019, six FA Cups were won by four women (Mo Marley, Laura Harvey, Shelley Kerr twice, Emma Hayes twice) and this season, seven teams have been managed by women, as well as Tottenham being managed by mixed-gender coaching duo Karen Hills and Juan Amoros.
Although it might seem like the number of women managing in the women’s game is irrelevant to their ability to take charge of men’s teams, that has not applied to their male equivalents. Nick Cushing recently made a prominent move to become Ronny Deila’s assistant manager at New York City after seven years at Manchester City Women. Prior to becoming manager of the women’s team, Cushing’s only managerial experience was of the under 12s.
Similarly, John Herdman was named head coach of the Canadian Men’s national team in 2018 following a spell as the manager of their women’s team and New Zealand’s women’s team. Before his international jobs, his coaching experience was in the Sunderland academy. Opportunities for male managers like Cushing and Herdman show that football executives are clearly willing to take seriously the experience that the women’s game can bestow on a manager. Whether a female manager would be offered the same opportunity is another question.
Part of the issue for female managers looking to move into the men’s game is the sheer amount of coaches already out there. Women only make up 5% of coaches in England and as of 2017, only seven women held the UEFA Pro License required to manage a top-tier team. 40 hold the UEFA A License which would allow them to manage a second-tier team. The Football Association’s own ‘Gameplan for Growth’ within the women’s game has supported 29 coaches from women’s football in obtaining their UEFA A License, although only 12 of them were women. Whilst encouraging good management within the women’s game is essential regardless of gender, one would hope the FA might want to question those numbers internally.
The professionalisation of women’s football in England might lead to a natural growth in the number of former players going into coaching – clearly the most prevalent pathway in the men’s game. In the past, female players have been forced to supplement their careers with additional jobs which may have offered a more obvious pathway once they retired. With women now being able to put football front and centre in their lives, this is likely to continue as they retire. In the media, Claire Rafferty and Karen Carney are two recent retirees who have actively looked to do this. Casey Stoney has done the same in coaching, with an impressively smooth transition to first team management at Manchester United.
As the women’s game grows in popularity, the exposure to the managers will only increase alongside broader recognition of the significance of their jobs. Whilst it is unlikely that Emma Hayes was actually on Chelsea’s list to replace Maurizio Sarri in the summer, the fact that the bookies had her as 33-1 to switch from the women’s team to the men’s showed that there is increasing awareness that good managers can be found on either side in football. Add into that the probable increase in women’s coaches as this first professionalised generation retires, and there will certainly be a wider pool of managers for men’s teams to pick from. It will undeniably take a brave team and a braver manager to take the plunge in England. But the quality of management will make it a plunge worth taking.
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