Could the manageress shatter football's grass ceiling?

After success with the England women's side, Hope Powell is now attracting interest from the men's game
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The Independent Football

For most international football managers, a 6-2 thrashing at the hands of Germany in a major final would not be considered a career-enhancing result. But for Hope Powell, the coach of the England's women side, it has led to speculation that she could be about to achieve a sporting first: becoming the first female "gaffer" in the men's game.

The England manager, who unlike her male counterparts for the last 43 years was able to lead the national side to a tournament final this summer at the European Championships, was linked to a vacancy at League Two club Grimsby earlier this year after being seen leaving a restaurant with the Mariners' chairman.

Powell, 43, who has been in charge of the national women's team for the last 11 years, dismissed the claims she was about to become the first woman to manage a professional men's side as "lies". But rumours persist that her impressive coaching credentials – underlined by the fact that she is the first woman to hold Uefa's highest managerial qualification – are attracting interest from the professional game.

She this week confirmed she was open to the idea of taking charge of a male dressing room, while pointing out at the same time that the first woman to take charge of such a bastion of masculinity would face intense scrutiny. Powell, who has made it clear that she is ready to step down from her current role, said: "If an opportunity presented itself, of course I would have a look."

She added: "I think that 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 okay, it would be a really difficult position for that person to be in."

Spurred by the success of the women's football in the United States, where it is a multi-million dollar industry with a professional league largely coached by men, the game in Britain has enjoyed rapid growth. In 1993, there were 10,400 registered players – a number that has now increased to 147,000. The FA announced this year the first central contract for the women's national side, worth £320,000 for 17 players over the next four years.

The value of such investment was considered to have been proved this summer when Powell took her side their first European Championship final in 25 years, although she admitted this week that she was "bitterly disappointed" by the 6-2 defeat against Germany.

But the thought of female participation at the sharp end of the men's game has long provoked spluttering incredulity among traditionalists. As Ron Atkinson put it while manager of Sheffield Wednesday: "Women should be in the kitchen, discotheque or the boutique. But not in football."

Such views increasingly run contrary to the realitywith women such as Karren Brady, the former chief executive of Birmingham City, and broadcasters such as Jacqui Oatley, the first female commentator on Match of the Day, leading a female vanguard in the game.

Managers past and present said there was no reason why a woman such as Powell should not lead a professional male side. Neil Warnock, the Crystal Palace manager and The Independent columnist, said: "Good luck to her, equal opportunities and all that. You can only tell if she'd be up to it if she does it. She would have to start at the lower levels. I can't see one of the top clubs hiring a woman, but you never know. If a woman can referee, they can run a team."

Craig Brown, the former Scotland manager, added: "I don't think gender should disbar a woman from doing anything. Hope Powell is very highly thought of. Being a manager is a position of power. A woman, like a man, would have to gain the respect of her players and even the supporters. There is no reason why that can't happen but I think it will happen very slowly."

Powell, who could yet be appointed to a new position in the FA as director of performance in women's football, is keeping her counsel about the level of sexism in the game. She has said: "It's funny isn't it, because nobody ever questions men in women's football. Never."