It’s that time of year again, the days are getting shorter, people are getting into the holiday festivities and FIFA are announcing all their shortlists for best coach and players for both the men’s and women’s games. This year the Fédération Internationale de Football Association have surpassed themselves with their shortlist of ten women’s coaches, the internet far quicker to react to the candidates than myself as I was sat staring at my computer screen for ten minutes scratching my head in confusion.
Underperforming national coaches
In complete disregard for the last twelve months, Jill Ellis – the current holder of the award – has been shortlisted. Ellis isn’t the only problematic name on the list but we’ll start with the USWNT coach and her recent exploits. A divisive figure, many might have disagreed with her winning the award in 2015 – depending of course of your personal view of the US team that became world champions in Canada, how they won and the impact Ellis had on the team but that was last year and this is this.
In the last twelve months the US not only saw their 104 game unbeaten run come to an end in New Orleans but Ellis presided over the worst finish of a US team at an Olympic tournament to date. Routine wins in friendlies against lesser teams littered the path as the coach set about rebuilding the team after mass retirements following on from the World Cup but with the sheer breadth of talent at her disposal it’s a wonder that the US didn’t storm the competition in Rio. Even in her mini blurb on the FIFA website the federation recognises that, “2016 will not be a year that will live long in the memory of the nation’s program” and yet here she is on the list.
From one underperforming nation to another, we go from the US to France as former manger, Philippe Bergeroo has earned a nomination. Whilst it is true that Les Bleues stormed Euro qualification that has to be taken with a grain of salt when you consider the opposition France had to face. With a squad bursting at the seems with raw talent, players that regularly feature for the best teams in Europe it’s of no surprise that the team does so well – to a point.
Despite all of their ability on paper, France have still failed to lift a piece of silverware, and whilst Bergeroo is a worthy of a hat-tip for his time, his conservative style didn’t match that of the attacking might of the team. Ultimately, another candidate who is merely taking up a spot on the shortlist that someone else deserves far more.
Whilst there is no doubt that Martina Voss-Tecklenburg has done wonders with the Swiss national team I am once again left to ask, but what has she done in 2016? Aside from qualifying for Euro 2017 in a group that they should always have been winning, there is not much more to be said. Voss-Tecklenburg is a fine coach and is doing well to shape and prepare Switzerland for their first ever European Championships next year but World Coach of the Year, she is not.
Starting the year off with a second place finish at the Algarve Cup, Oswaldo Fumeiro Alvarez (Vadão) looked like he’d steered the Brazilian national team away from the rocks and it was smooth sailing ahead for A Seleção. A strong first two group games at home at the Rio Olympics did wonders to catch the country’s imagination and win a few hearts the men’s team continued to ail but as the focus shifted to the women’s team this started to fall apart for Vadão.
Three consecutive nil-nil’s followed, one successful shoot-out and one unsuccessful, the lofty dreams of home glory ultimately unravelling at the hands of a familiar Canadian foe. I sat and watched those games, I watched as the pressure began to tell, the younger players cracking under the strain and the older ones bearing the brunt, the Brazilians with all their skill, all their guile become undone. A lack of tactical awareness apparent as the Olympic hosts began to be outplayed against teams with a greater technical understanding of the game.
Just two league coaches made the grade this year, Lyon’s [comparatively] new boy, Gérard Prêcheur and Bayern Munich’s long-serving Thomas Wörle. With arguably one of, if not the, best teams in the world, Lyon collect more silverware that a thirteen-year-old with a £20 Claire’s Accessories gift voucher – having completed the treble in 2016 it’s of no surprise to see everyone’s least favourite opponents represented.
Not as imperious as Lyon, Wörle’s Munich team were the only side not affected by a wobbly 2015-16 season, although coming up short in the DFB-Pokal as well as suffering a surprise Round of 32 exit in the UWCL to Twente. FC Bayern had a storming season, dropping just seven points along the way to their second title, a solid squad and savvy young coach propelling them all the way.
Following on from a disappointing home World Cup, Canada bounced back with aplomb at the start of the year cruising through qualification for the Olympics before lifting the Algarve Cup the following month. The team that went to Rio was perfectly balanced, mixes of youth and experience the tonic for a strong team smartly managed by Consett native, John Herdman.
Surpassing expectations, the Canucks equalled their best finish at an Olympics, trumping Brazil to scoop bronze after having been denied a spot in the final by eventual winners, Germany. An adaptive manager, Herdman did well to tailor his side to the opposition, a few wobbles along the way did nothing to take away from the successful summer.
For a German team that had won everything to be won except for an elusive gold medal at a Summer Olympics there was only one way football heavyweight Silvia Neid was going to go out. Well decorated as both player and manager, Neid’s last game in charge was a personal and national success, securing the one piece of silver (gold) ware that had eluded Die Mannschaft. Neid, much like Ellis and Bergeroo, had a cornucopia of talent at her disposal, but unlike her counterparts was able to harness the best from the team, an early loss to Canada the only blemish on a convincing Olympic campaign. Did Neid do anything jawdroppingly amazing? No, not really, but what she did, she did well.
It's of no surprise that the managers who had the better time of it in Brazil have featured so heavily on the shortlist, Pia Sundhage and her silver Sweden the penultimate name I’ll mention. Sundhage came under heavy fire for her conservative style of play, truthfully, I don’t love it myself but I understand it. A different manger with the same group of women easily could have approached games more aggressively, could have given the crowd a more interesting show but that’s simply not how Sundhage plays. The system, whilst not everyone’s cup of tea, was without a doubt successful, but of course that is owing a huge credit to the players who stayed focused and regimented minute after minute, game after game in Rio. Losing out to Germany in the final, Sweden earned their silver medals as Sundhage earned her spot in the final ten for coach of the year.
The last coach to make up the final ten is former Banyana Banyana boss, Vera Pauw. Maybe the surprise addition to the list, Pauw did fantastically well during her time with the South African team, taking them to their second successive Olympic Games. Following their successful qualifying tournament staggered over five months, Banyana Banyana made themselves a thorn in the side of those they faced in Brazil – a narrow loss and a credible draw against Brazil enough to leave fans remembering the name. Pauw was instrumental in making South Africa competitive at Rio and is one of the worthier names to make the shortlist.
No coach left behind
With those ten in mind it’s worth mentioning all those who failed to make the cut. With most of the memorable teams who featured at the Olympics represented it’s hard to miss the absence of Matildas boss, Alen Stajcic. Having breezed through qualifying for the Olympics the Matildas were an out-side favourite though drawn in a group with a determined Canada side and winners, Germany the Matildas had no room for error.
Picking up injuries left right and centre, the team from Australia once again had their fair share of bad luck at a major tournament, unlucky to finish the group in third place before somehow failing to navigate past the host in the quarter finals. A quarter final finish more than enough for Bergeroo and Ellis to be considered for coach of the year, Stajcic came up against far more obstacles on the Matildas route to and through the Olympics and is certainly worthy of consideration.
Focusing on league coaches, it’s baffling how Martin Sjögren has been left off of the list, Linköping’s success hasn’t come overnight and although the gap between first and second has noticeably grown over the last few games LFC were always set to push Rosengård all the way this season. With a squad that boasts more names for tomorrow than today, Sjögren has moulded the team into champions, the only side still unbeaten in the Damallsvenskan (with just one game of the season left), every player has a clear role in the side with no one player lent on more than the others. Pernille Harder and Stina Blackstenius’ goals huge for the side but a team mentality has been what’s kept LFC on course this year and for that Sjögren must take the plaudits.
I’m well aware of how frustrating it can be for those overseas to hear and read of English men and women banging on about their leagues and players but I honestly think, little English WSL is worthy of a mention. More specifically, Manchester City’s Nick Cushing. With the thinnest of squads that has suffered long-term injury after long-term injury, Cushing’s side has consistently come up with the goods – unbeaten in 26 games (in 90 minutes) in all competitions this year.
Cushing remains one of the driving forces behind City’s success, having instilled a silky smooth passing game into his players, the possession-based football the Citizen’s play is one of the most attractive in the game, the players Cushing selects to add to the talented core always utilised well. Currently getting a feel for Champions League football, it seems inevitable that Cushing will have his name on the short-list for years to come.
Heading back down under, Melbourne City boss Joe Montemurro is also worthy of consideration, in charge of City in their maiden season the team – cram packed with talent – managed to navigate the entire season, not just unbeaten but without dropping a single point. The feat was not a mean one, the side eased to victory week in week out, completing the domestic double, with so many big names on board Montemurro did superbly well to not just juggle the team but to get the side working in complete harmony throughout the duration of the season. Not just any W-League coach but the W-League coach.
Even Joseba Agirre and Monica Knudsen are worth mentioning for the respective league successes with Athletic Club and LSK Kvinner. Agirre’s Athletic had a memorable 2015-16 season pipping Barcelona to the Primera División title by a solitary point, the Bilbao club didn’t have the same calibre of players to call on that rivals Barcelona and Atlético Madrid did. The internationals in the squad more commonly associated with the Basque Country team, not the Spanish side – the only Bilbao player to have earned a Spain call up in the last year, 33 year-old Erika Vázquez. Yet Agirre got the very best from his side as they claimed their first league title for almost a decade.
In Norway, Knudsen’s LSK have continued to lead the way in the Toppserien and are in touching distance of their third successive title - anything other than a loss in their last game this coming weekend will do. LSK have dropped a measly six points all year and are the only side to remain unbeaten although the team from Lillestrøm haven’t fared particularly well in the UWCL, Knudsen’s leadership makes them a force to be reckoned with.
I am just one person, I don’t watch every domestic and intentional game of football played every day, there are leagues across the world I neglect and can’t speak of the ability of the coaches I don’t know but FIFA have missed more than a trick this year. Having Bergeroo and Ellis on the list is a slap in the face to those coaches who’ve actually achieved things this year, whether in a league season or on the international stage.