The announcement that Scotland's Head Coach Anna Signeul will step down from her role after the Euros is perhaps not a surprise after the announcement that her contract was extended to 'after the Euros'. Signeul will take over as the Head Coach of Finland.
What is not a surprise is how the sport has reacted to the announcement. Signeul has been always kind, willing to answer questions and completely open and honest with her responses. She's always at matches and has even been noticed at two different SWPL games on a Sunday.
Taking on the role of Scotland back in March 2005, replacing Vera Pauw, Signeul has spent twelve years in the role and led Scotland to their debut tournament. However, that doesn't come close to measuring her impact in the sport.
Signeul liked a challenge
In the BBC Alba documentary The Honeyballers, Signeul spoke about the fact that she took the Scotland job as she was a competitive person and that she liked a challenge. That is an understatement about the role. In the same documentary, the Club Manager of Glasgow City Laura Montgomery praised Signeul's method of working with the clubs and seeing her role as improving the structure of the game – and not just focusing on the national games.
She introduced an academy system in the country which has helped produce some of the best players the country has ever seen. Her work has seen the development of strong sustainable clubs, and it is arguable that despite the dominance of Glasgow City, the domestic game is at its strongest point. Signeul has also supported the development of the coaches, including seeing 14 coaches make the step from volunteering to professional work.
Scotland currently does not have a professional game. Whilst some clubs can offer 'professional contracts', it is nowhere near being common, and the vast majority of the players have to rely on second jobs. The majority of the Scotland stars don't play in Scotland. In Scotland's recent friendly against the Netherlands, Nicky Docherty couldn't get time off work. With the resources, she started with, and the number of qualification places available, Scotland's development has been remarkable
People can argue that Scotland only qualified because of the expansion in the Euros. That is partly true as Scotland finished second in their group, but that would be incredibly unfair. Scotland has had several 'oh-so-near' qualification campaigns that ended in heartbreak, that it has been only cursed luck that has stopped them reaching a tournament before. The heartbreak that has happened under Signeul's watch has been none greater than in the play-offs for the 2013 Euros where Spain scored with the last kick of the game to knock Scotland out. The impact of that game was so great that it is arguable that Scotland's upcoming game against Spain in the Euros is far bigger than a match against England in the same tournament.
Scotland and its people will always have a very special place in my heart
Upon announcing her decision to move on from Scotland after the Euros, she spoke of her pride in her squad reaching the Euros, saying it “was a wonderful achievement and one that has been thoroughly deserved.”
She went on to further praise the Scotland players, stating that, “These players are dedicated, professional and have overcome adversity to become the formidable players they are, individually and collectively.”
Signeul described the support from the clubs to enable the country to have “an elite environment for the players” as a “really humbling experience for me.”
On the volunteers working within the clubs, she commented, “The volume of work undertaken by the volunteers in the clubs is immense. I would like to thank the players, clubs and parents for their support.
“Scotland and its people will always have a very special place in my heart.”
Obviously, there is a big chapter yet to write in the story of Signeul as Scotland Head Coach, and her statement went on to deal with the upcoming Euros, saying she had clarified her future to remove any distractions, as Scotland being to prepare for their ten friendlies as they prepare for the Euros. As she says, there is a lot Scotland need to work on as they prepare for the Euros, and the intensive programme over the next months is bound to help work on the defensive issues that cropped up in the Netherlands friendly.
She finished her statement with thanks to the SFA saying, “I would like to thank our Chief Executive, Stewart Regan and our President, Alan McRae, for their support for girls’ and women’s football in Scotland. I will leave Scotland with fond memories but I am convinced the greatest memories lie ahead in the coming months.”
The SFA's Chief Executive Stewart Regan called her an inspiration, adding, “Anna will rightly be lauded for taking the first Scotland women’s national team to major finals and that legacy is richly deserved. More than that, though, she has worked tirelessly and to raise standards at all levels of the women’s game and to increase opportunities for girls and women across the country.”
The newly appointed SFA Performance Director Malky Mackay said that whoever replaces Signeul faces a huge challenge, and spoke about her standing within the game, saying “I have only been here for a few weeks but I know that Anna is highly respected within the association, among her squad of players and throughout the women’s game in general.”
There has been little change in Scotland's World Rankings under Signeul's reign (29 to today's 21) but bearing in mind how many times have seen vast improvements in Women's Football (including expansions across numerous international competitions) that is a big achievement on its own.
In her first qualification campaign, Scotland finished third in their 2007 FIFA World Cup group, picking up eight points as they finished behind Russia and Germany. For the Euro 2009 campaign, she led Scotland to the play-offs where they lost to Russia on away goals.
Next up was the 2011 World Cup qualifiers where countries had to win the group to reach the play-offs and Scotland finished just one point behind Denmark after a goalless draw between the countries in the final qualifier.
Then came the 2013 Euros where Scotland finished second in their group, behind France, to reach the play-offs. After drawing 1-1 with Spain in the first leg at Hampden Park (the crowd of 4,058 is still Scotland's record crowd), Scotland travelled to Spain with the knowledge that they needed to score. After the scores with 1-1 after 90 minutes in the second leg, the game went into extra-time. Kim Little scored, and although Spain equalised, Scotland led on away goals. Heartbreakingly in the 122nd minute, Veronica Boquete scored to break Scottish hearts.
Scotland once again suffered play-off heartbreak after finishing behind Sweden in the group, before losing to the Netherlands 4-1 in the play-offs.
But this was all put behind once Scotland qualified for the Euros 2017, celebrating their qualification with an impressive 2-1 victory over Iceland.
Signeul's legacy will be guiding to Scotland to a major tournament. No matter how the Euros go, she will be remembered as one of the key people in the sport's history in Scotland – which go back to 1881 (in Associated football).