With the recent focus of women’s football on the European Championships in Sweden, won by Germany again, you may not have noticed that Scotland had representatives at the tournament – despite our national team missing out with the last kick of the game in a play off against Spain.
A number of coaches and development officers in the Scottish game were invited over to Sweden to find out about building new analysis tools for individual players and teams, identifying European trends and what it takes to be an elite player. One such coach attending the tournament was Glasgow City’s Head of Youth Development, Amy McDonald. Before she flew to the Scandinavian country we asked her to produce a diary of her time there.
We started at four o’clock at Edinburgh airport and by the time we got to the first match, tiredness seemed to leave everyone.There was a hype around Gothenberg. A buzz. It started building about 5pm as the streets got busier. You could sense the excitement as we walked back from our first session from Torbjorn Nilsonn, an experienced player and club coach.
Nilsonn had a warming nature, whose beliefs were to teach players to think and not give them the answers, to communicate without communication. I know, unusual as it may seem it made perfect sense, utilise the senses of sight and understanding, know your team mate as well as you know yourself. [Ed- A bit of Sun Tze in football it seems]
Anyway back to the main event, Sweden vs Denmark. Sweden did themselves proud with the opening ceremony, the build up and the atmosphere and to cap it all off the streets were full of families.
The match itself was a surprise, Sweden went into the match clear favourites and they came out of the match with a lesson from a well organised Danish team. Who in my own opinion were brave, looked for the ball at all times, played with creativity and flow.
Sweden seemed rigid and lacked what they are renowned for, high pressure. There full backs and wide players sat in and the central midfielders had a disregard for the Danish strikers who played neatly within the Swedish lines. The result has apparently placed an already under pressure home nation under scrutiny. Maybe they will improve and re-group for Saturday’s game.
I cannot help but wonder what if. What if Scotland did beat Spain? How would we have played? The atmosphere, the excitement, the experience. Now though to finish analysis and to bed.
I do not know how, but I went to the gym this morning. Managing to open one eye. The spirit and personalities on the trips are shining through and we are becoming more like a team ourselves. Today, we travelled two hours to Linkjoping before travelling to Oster IF for another presentation – only a four-hour trip on the bus.
I will keep this short and as simple as possible to describe the club: equality (male and female treated equally), integrity and amazing facilities. Their own arena, training pitches, fitness specialists, Coaches which specialise in forwards, defenders etc. They recognise they cannot compete with the bigger clubs and as a result call themselves a “feeder club”.
Afterwards, the Germany game. Germany a dominant force have six players missing. Four of which I would consider starters, and still billed as favourites for the tournament. Holland, have recently adopted a new playing style, more attacking. The game ended 0-0. The best chances came from Holland.
Many people including myself thought the strength and depth of Germany’s squad would see them through, however it appeared that their flow was disrupted. Again, it is the debate that is it a poor performance from Germany or a clever one from Holland?
But credit where credit is due to a diligent Holland team whom played with determination, fight and stuck to their guns. Can the Germany team be under-rated due to the missing players? Their strength, power and fitness is evident. They just need goals.
First up are the presentations of individual analysis. Every game we have been too we have done homework on, whether it be focusing on a team or an individual. To focus on just one individual player brings its own difficulties. It’s subjective which means its dependent on your own knowledge but you must look at the player’s role within the team (tactics) and their own strength and weaknesses.
We then headed off to Osters IF who are sitting in third place within the top flight. Their focus team spirit, personalities both on and off the pitch. It is important to mention many of the women’s teams here have affiliations with ice hockey clubs which mean people have sporting interests all year round. We also spoke to player Mya Krantz discussing her training, her experiences as a professional player and her studies to become a psychologist.
Onto the game of the night, England vs Spain. Clearly still a sore point for everyone that Spain put Scotland out, however their performance was one that deserves praise. Their touch and technique were superior to an England side that were rigid and lacked flow to their play. However it was one of the most exciting games finishing 3-2 with Spain adopted the typical Spanish style of play.
Interestingly, when you read the post match analysis and interviews it gives you a different insight. Spanish players admitted they knew physically they could not compete with England, so their game plan was to keep the ball and that’s what they did. England now face an uphill battle to get out of the group which have Russia and France in it. France a dominant force with bags of experience. Russia are a physical side and will not roll over easily.
A more relaxed start to the day, we had breakfast and went for a stroll to the beach before heading back. In the afternoon we were visited by the old Swedish national coach Thomas Dennerby. Interestingly he gave us information in regards to Finland whom he has been scouting and who we are going to watch play Sweden later. This was the information that the Swedish national team received in regards to Finland.
At this point it is probably good to compare the information we got to how the Swedish performed. To expose Finland in the full back areas, achieved. To utilise the switch of play, achieved – although more in the second half.To move the ball quickly, achieved. The score 5-0. Out of Sweden’s six goals so far in the tournament four came from set pieces.
They are a threat in this area. The atmosphere in the stadium again deserves plaudits. Over 16000 people clapping every corner, singing, chanting and supporting women’s football.
Overwhelming to watch, and must be a mutual and humbling experience for a player or coach on the pitch. Sweden have set their stall now, the pressure will mount slowly but surely with every win.
Tomorrow Germany vs Iceland, an important game which will either see Germany’s performance greatly improve or stall, a big moment for one of the teams considered as favourites.
We had a visit today from the district association known as Smålands FA, with a population of around 700000. They take care of and manage what we would associate with football development departments such as coach education, management of regional leagues, player pathways and club development.
The difference is specialists, someone who focuses solely on player pathway (ages, focus of age group, structures etc), coach education, club expansion. We discovered that there are now not too many differences between Scotland to that of Sweden. The growth of the game has been substantial, but with growth comes its own problems, different ones.
Football has to remain adaptable on and off the pitch. If you do the same for ten years you are left behind, you must be forward thinking, clear in your objectives and focused regardless of your position in football.
Tonight’s game, Germany vs Iceland. Germany have a new problem, experience has gone either through injury or age. However, should they be written off? Quite simply no. Their players are athletes with great touch and movement. They carry themselves so well they ooze confidence, stature and belief.
Iceland are dogged and determined. Their league has suffered in recent years due to the economy crashing, but many players play outwith the country.
Germany started well, efficient, their speed on the counter was quite simply frightening. The scoreline was 4-0. An improvement in speed of play from Germany, an Icelandic team that struggled to retain the ball. However, Germany are almost frail in comparison to past European championship winning sides and although slightly impressed I remain unconvinced. Unconvinced that the formidable force of Germany can win the tournament. However, they should not be dismissed in the years to come with an average age of 24.
A quieter day today. We were given a presentation by our very own club development officers who have been on a different fact-finding mission. Ideas they can utilise, improve upon and take back to Scotland with them.
We are then given a presentation by our new SWPL brand manager Nicola Campbell, it was inspiring the way Sweden had marketed the finals. Everywhere you went there was a poster, a billboard, a flyer or an advert. They had picked key players and everywhere you went you saw famous female football players.
The clubs had identified and stood strong in their aims and philosophies. The community club (feeder/safety), the aspiring club (risk taking) or to win and be recognised only at this. Their marketing took similar lines.
We then did more travelling before we concluded our time in Sweden. How can you sum up everything we have discovered and learned? How could we put it into words? For me it was simple as to where we are now to where we need to be: ‘Small margins create big differences’.
Whether physically or tactically to compete at the top, the differences may be ever so small but they make such a big difference. Tactically teams now may play a 4-3-2-1 when on the attack, but when called on to defend they are fluid as they revert to a 4-5-1.
Physically, many teams train the same amount of times as Scottish clubs do, but why are they not operating at similar levels? A weight based program or a functional program? Football training over gym sessions? Bio-mechanics? Resources and nutrition? All need close consideration and it quite simply can no longer be a “one size fits all model”.
Finally, is attack the best form of defence? I have now witnessed Denmark, Spain, Holland, Iceland, Norway all go out and stick to their own game regardless of whether they play Germany, Sweden or France (the big guns). The results may not have favoured them all but I have the utmost respect for any nation that is brave. Brave and willing to have a go. We did not see one team opt to “sit in” or set up a game plan just to defend. As I said small differences but they create big gaps.
The final two games. Spain vs France and Sweden vs Italy. Spain again stuck to their own game plan and France well what can be said about France. Tina Ferguson and I were tasked with researching the team prior to leaving. Style of play, players, coaches and formations. They have strength and depth in all areas. Their touch and technique are world-class, tactically they love to play in small spaces, however can opt for a longer switch of play. They are fit and athletic. I could not foresee Spain overcoming them. The game itself followed that pattern. Although Spain had a go they could not cope with the speed of play and movement players such as Necib and Abily. They are strong at set pieces and that’s how they scored their first goal.
Our last full day in Sweden and we had a day off, well after the two-hour bus journey. We arrived at the hotel and played pool, mingled and even a small game of volleyball. Although, despite some suspect moves throughout the game everyone was relaxed.
We then headed off to get ready before making our way to Freddie Ljungberg’s restaurant for dinner and afterwards taking in Sweden against Italy. We did not have to analyse the game, but how do you switch off from doing so?
Constantly looking at tactics, players, how the game changes, strengths and weaknesses. Sweden won comfortably however the changes made by the Italians influenced the game as they scored once and had chances to score more.
We wondered why Gabbiadini didn’t start, as she had such huge influence when she came on, scoring for Italy. Was it down to her age or fitness?
Sweden looked sharp and fit, they moved the ball quickly and they were always looking for that third player running to carve teams open. Again, the pressure mounts on the home nation. They have qualified, they can sleep easy tonight but the media continue to hound them – some in a good way, others not so good.
The end of trip is nigh. Everyone is exhausted but excited. Excited at how the game has grown and filled with new ideas to take the Scottish game forward to that next level.
Of course, we will hit problems and stumbling blocks nothing is ever that easy. The solution is ourselves. Each and every sport enthusiast, player, coach, football fan, physio etc. Whilst we spread the message and encourage more girls to play, allow them to strive to be the best instead of knocking them down, let every player dream of being professional and show them how to do it, it is not out of anyone’s reach. These are small details, but they make such big differences.
I would like to thank the Scottish FA for the opportunity, as well as the Leonardo Da Vinci fund. They provided us with the opportunity now it’s up to us what we do with that experience and put what we learned into practice. For me it is quite simple – We must strive to be better and never ever rest on our laurels.