After their loss to Arsenal in their first competitive game since being granted tier one status, VAVEL spoke to new West Ham boss, Matt Beard about the match, his goals for the season and how he grew as a coach in the NWSL.
Not quite on the same page in the first half, the Hammers were two goals down at the break, a disadvantage that they failed to overcome after the break.
“We’re disappointed we lost, it was always a tall order in a tough first fixture for us being seven weeks in as a team but there are plenty of positives we can take. The first goal we could have prevented, the second was a good move from Arsenal, but there’s a couple of things in the build up we didn’t do.”
Firing out of the blocks after half-time, the team raised their game to cause more havoc for the hosts.
“We responded well in the second half, we created some other chances when we could have scored, but didn’t taken them and Arsenal have got a good goal to see the game out but we can take a lot of positives from today’s performance, I don’t think we’re a million miles away from Arsenal and the likes so we can build from today and put in an improved performance in next week.”
A goal early in the second half a another handful of chances kept the Gunners on their toes, the benefit of the break enough for Beard to tweak a few things in the team accordingly.
“A couple of things we’d worked on in the week, tactically, especially when they went from one side of the pitch to the other, we didn’t pin them in quick enough, we just spoke about our distances because they were too big and Arsenal could get into the pockets, we just adjusted them slightly.”
He continued, “The other thing was, we weren’t doing our patterns well enough, our movement was too slow, our tempo was too slow, and it was a bit too comfortable for Arsenal. When we adjusted it, we started to create gaps, started to create openings and cause problems. I wasn’t displeased at half-time, I was encouraged by some of the football I saw, just tweaked one or two things and I felt we were much better in the second half.”
Having a complete overhaul over the summer, West Ham said goodbye to all but two (Rosie Kmita and Vyan Sampson) of their first teamers, bringing in players from all across Europe (as well as the US). As well as familiar faces like new captain Gilly Flaherty, former Red, Kate Longhurst and Scottish striker Jane Ross, the squad has bevy of new players to the league. From a highly rated Irish teenage (Leanne Kiernan) to an American defender who’s been plying her trade in Italy (Brooke Hendrix) to a Frauen-Bundesliga winner (Julia Simic), Beard can boast an eclectic bunch.
The new team not all singing from the same songbook just yet.
“It’s tough, I think we’ve done well for one transfer window. We’ve had players come in at different times, Kate Longhurst only just came in two-three weeks ago, Alisha Lehmann was on international duty so she missed four weeks of preseason, so you’ve got players who don’t have all the education that others do. That’s something I’m fully aware is going to take time, and we’re quite lucky that we’ve got two more cup games before our season starts so we’ve still got two more competitive fixtures to improve and work on the training ground.”
With three league cup games before the first match of the season (the Hammers the first team to sit out a fixture in the 11-team league), there’s plenty of time to bring the team up to speed in time for their midweek tie at home to Reading.
“Our first game is 19 September, so we’ve still got another four-five weeks, so we’ve got time to improve the team, improve the team’s understanding and of course, the players that are playing catch-up, by the time we kick-off they should have the full understanding.”
Despite bringing in an entirely new team in and setting up a side in a league he’d been way from for two years, the process was relatively straightforward.
“I was surprised the amount of players that were available but I’m sure because of the change of the league a lot of players were waiting to see who was going to be where because it was an application process so I half understand that. But it’s like any recruitment process, you utilise agents, you watch film, you speak to the people and get recommendations and I’m pleased with who we’ve recruited, I think we’ve got a good group of girls and we have to realise it will take us time.”
Needing to bed everyone into the new system and get used to the pace of the fully professional league, Beard is under no disillusions that it will take time to the team to really start to harmonise.
“I’ve said to the girls time and again it’s going to take us right the way through to October-November for everything to really drop into place and for us to understand everything but we’ve worked hard through this recruitment process, I still know we need some other players and we’ve had Tessel Middag who unfortunately got injured on international duty, so, I’m pleased with the squad we’ve built and it will be nice if we can add to it in January but we’ll see how that goes.”
Goals and experiences
Modest in his expectations for the season, safety is key for the Hammers boss, beyond that, the sky is the limit.
“The first thing is to gain enough points to stay in the division, once we’ve done that we can look at the next targets, the initial process is probably four-six games to make sure we’re competitive and I thought we were for large parts of the game [against Arsenal]. And just to learn from every performance and improve every week and depending where we are after the first four-six weeks of the Super League campaign we can review our targets, from that perspective it’s really about getting the team to gel and understand and be comfortable with what we’re asking them to do.”
Just one of four WSL title-winning coaches, Beard undertook a new challenge with the Boston Breakers ahead of the 2016 season. The team with a long way to go to be competitive, the set-up of the NWSL something new for the Englishman, from a drafting and trading system to a new technical language to learn, Beard had his work cut out for him Stateside.
“I learnt a lot about myself because the first year was tough and I inherited someone else’s team. It’s a completely different transfer system, because of that we didn’t have a lot of “value” (as they call it in America) in regards to the trade system, it really tested me mentally and I feel because I’ve been through that it made me a better coach.”
He continued, “But the other thing as well is I had to learn a different style of football, a new football language and playing up against different coaches, learning about different players and dealing with people from a different mindset, a different background and for me that was key in my development as a coach.”
Like so many others before him, Beard felt a new challenge was in order and after three years with Liverpool that had seen the Reds win back-to-back titles, he left for a new test.
“I felt… I wasn’t getting stale here because I was working at a good club but I felt that I needed something different, it’s my thirteenth season in women’s football now and you know I needed to test myself in a different environment, a different country and I feel I had a great learning experience, we had a great time as a family, it was a life experience for my children and my wife, I can come back to this league and I’m really glad I’m back in it and hopefully bring a little bit of what I’ve learned out there to this division.”