FA turn attention to finding replacement for Hope Powell - but it might not be an Englishwoman
Outstanding candidates do not meet the preferred criteria
The Football Association’s search for a replacement for Hope Powell, who was fired as England women’s manager today, will start by seeking an Englishwoman, but there is every possibility they may appoint someone who is English, or female, but not both. Most people within the game simply want the best candidate for the job, but the FA feel it is important to have a native female in charge to show there is a pathway to the top – just as they prefer an English manager of the men’s team. However, neither of the outstanding candidates, Geordie John Herdman and Swede Pia Sundhage, meet both criteria.
The third strongest contender, Mo Marley, is English and female but she looks to be an outsider as the FA are intimating that they are in no rush to make a decision and are likely to hand responsibility for next month's World Cup qualifiers against Belarus and Turkey to Powell's assistant, Brent Hills. As Marley, the former Everton coach, is on the FA payroll as U19 coach she could have taken over within days. Herdman and Sundhage would have to be prised from their current jobs as coaches to Canada (the 2015 World Cup hosts) and Sweden respectively.
Marley's biggest disadvantage is that she is closely connected to the Powell era and it seems the FA wish to make a clean break. They were at pains to state Powell had not been 'sacked', but there is no other way of interpreting her departure. The FA statement said: "the Club England board believe the time is right to make a change and for a fresh outlook."
The FA said the decision had been promoted by 'the disappointment of the recent [European Championship] tournament in Sweden'. England came 12th of 12 teams having taking one point from three matches. Powell said herself failure to make the quarter-finals would be a 'disaster' but afterwards insisted she would not resign. Many leading players were said to despair at the prospect of Powell continuing and finally, after a delay because Powell was on holiday, the FA have acted.
FA chief executive Alex Horne rightly paid tribute to the work Powell has done in taking the women's game forward. Powell had been at the FA for 15 years and in that time totally transformed their approach to the women's game. Proud, feisty and determined she stood up to FA councillors and officials who were not, in the early years, convinced that women's football deserved the backing she demanded. Players who had slept in gyms before matches in her playing days now stay in high-standard hotels, there is a support structure in place and a national league. She effectively did two jobs, coach and technical director, a fact recognized by the FA with the announcement they are also seeking a 'technical lead for women's football'.
However, Powell alienated many senior players by branding them 'cowards' after a shortage of volunteers to take penalties in the 2011 World Cup quarter-final defeat. Her squad selection at Euro 2013 relied too heavily on long-term stalwarts, several of whom took injuries into the tournament.
Her captain, Casey Stoney, admitted: "There was unrest [in the England camp at the Euros], but that came because we were losing games." Powell was, said Stoney, "ruthless, "She did what she thought was right. It can't have been that wrong because she reached a European final and two World Cup quarter-finals."
But the FA need - and expect - a tournament triumph if their increased investment in the women's game is to be rewarded by greater media coverage and sponsorship interest. That will be the target set Powell's successor.
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