Following on from the success of last year’s best 11 coaches, we’re back with another 11 coaches from the world of woso who deserve plaudits for their work over the calendar year.
Although we’re not going to double-up on any from the last 11, we want to give a special shout-out Stellan Carlsson, Pedro López and Paul Riley who’ve continued in the same rich vein as last year, getting the very best out of their respective crops of players.
Kim Björkegren – Linköping
This year it was impossible to fire up a Linköping stream and not hear the commentator mention the players the champions had lost between the 2016 and 2017 season, with coach Martin Sjögren the talented trio of attackers of Stina Blackstenius, Pernille Harder and Fridolina Rolfö having departed. So too did Mariann Gajhede Knudsen and Renee Slegers – as well as another handful – so whilst Björkegren was inheriting a title winning squad it had seen considerable losses over the winter and he had his work cut out for him.
Whilst Linköping didn’t have the same breathless swagger as over the 2016 Damallsvenskan season they repeatedly showed their class, eventually easing to their second successive title, for this the coach takes a lot of the plaudits. Even when LFC lost the starting defensive pair of Magda Eriksson and Jessica Samuelsson over the summer the team didn’t falter, the club quick to add smart reinforcements as they had over the previous window to replace what was lost and lay down solid foundations.
Though not the finished article yet, Björkegren’s Linköping have become the team to beat in a short amount of time.
Elísabet Gunnarsdóttir – Kristianstad
A near-miss last year saw Kristianstad secure their safety on the last day of the season, downing Umeå on a sodden pitch, a low point of Gunnarsdóttir’s tenure with KDFF the Icelandic coach bounced back with aplomb in 2017.
Gunnarsdóttir’s success is reminiscent of Carlsson’s at Piteå, both coaches working with very modest funds but getting the very best out of their squads that lack the same level of stars as the bigger teams in the league.
A number of shrew acquisitions over the winter set Kristianstad up, the team picking up steam week in week out until finally their results began to match their on-the-pitch form, the team moving from league safety to the dizzy heights of fifth by the end of the season – though with a little more luck on their side they could have been high enough to suffer a nosebleed.
Well respected by her squad, and well loved by those in and around the team, Gunnarsdóttir’s style is stamped all over Kristianstad, the team would be an entirely different entity without her.
Nils Nielsen – Denmark
One of the surprise packages of the Euros, there was none more surprising than Denmark’s charismatic former coach, Nils Nielsen. The man who hadd been with the team since 2013, saving his best work for last as he guided the team through a banana skin group before taking the high distinction of being only the second coach to knock a Germany team out of the Euros. The summer culminated in a final loss to hosts, the Netherlands after a shoot-out win over a thrilling Austria team.
Throughout the duration there were few teams that had to deal with more hurdles than Denmark, whether it be coming up against Germany and having a knock-out match postponed, or the simply baffling number of injuries to starters, Nielsen inspired his team of “problem solvers” all the way to the final. The Greenlander’s ability to bring the Danish team together and call in younger and less favoured players in pursuit of European glory enviable.
Geir Nordby – Røa
A stalwart in Norwegian football, Nordby has been around the coaching staff at Røa for an incredible twenty years. From 2004 to 2010 he and Røa were the team setting the pace in Norwegian football, but past their glory days with the emergence and revival of others around the league Nordby has been dealt a new challenge.
Given the resources available, Nordby’s Røa continues to over perform and this season was no different as they finished fifth just six points off of from Stabæk in third (and ahead of teams that on paper should be finishing ahead of them).
One of the main reasons behind Røa’s success is Nordby’s exceptional ability to get every individual to perform to their very best – a quality that last year saw Røa’s captain Gunhild Kvaalen Herregården, and several others, call for him to be in contention as the next manager of the Norwegian national team.
Kvaalen Herregården also highlighted his ability to put together a team that becomes stronger than the sums of its parts, the XI effectively becoming their own 12th woman. His ability to put the players first and make sure they are comfortable, on and off the field has been well lauded by the likes of Kvaalen Herregården, the team on paper not always a top half side though they consistently find themselves amongst the best come the end of the season.
Nordby has managed to create something new with Røa on multiple occasions, something in itself worthy of praise, the final word comes from Kvaalen Herregården who has stated that many don’t realise how good he is until they're coached by him.
Hege Riise – LSK
Another coach new to the role who managed to take a depleted team to title glory this year is LSK’s Hege Riise. Inheriting a solid team from Monica Knudsen, the Norwegian legend had to navigate the season without stalwarts Lene Mykjåland, Isabell Herlovsen and Sherida Spitse – Emilie Haavi only unexpectedly returning after a failed stint in NWSL. Like Björkegren, Riise’s off-season dealings proved to be key and the team looked as deadly as ever in Toppserien, succumbing to just one loss – a shock end to their 34 (league) game unbeaten run against Trondheims-Ørn.
The seamless transition from Knudsen to Riise speaks to the coach’s understanding of the group and requirements of her post and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Matthias Rudolph – Turbine Potsdam
Tasked with steadying the ship after Bernd Schröder had departed the Karl-Liebknecht Stadion, Rudolph had his work cut out for him, dealing with a team that had lost its love for the game and diminished with the loss of several promising talents.
The first few months of the Rudolph’s rein were a return to the glory days for the Turbines, the six-time champions enjoying a prolonged period of 203 days at the top of the Frauen-Bundesliga table before ultimately coming off of the boil at the end of the season.
Despite the capitulation as the summer rolled around, it’s hard to underestimate just how much Rudolph achieved over a short-space of time, not just bringing the joy back to football in Potsdam but drumming a slick attacking style into the team.
Jean-Louis Saez – Montpellier
Another coach we’re keen to highlight is another who went the year without picking up any silverware but still managed to see a great deal of success on the pitch culminating in a Champions League berth.
Having started the season strongly, La Paillade wavered at the start of the year with when talisman Sofia Jakobsson ended up side-lined for the remainder of the season but the team soon recovered and capitalised on PSG’s own wobbles.
With a scintillating mix of youth and experience, French nationals as well as international talents, Saez’ Montpellier is one of the most well-balanced in Europe, the team ethic what guides the side through each game the work done by the coach well worthy of praise.
Jens Scheuer – SC Freiburg
With considerably less resources than the so-called 'big two' of German football, Scheuer had built a side capable of competing with the league’s best. A young side of fearless Freiburgers, the team has been picking up pace season after season and easily could have snuck into the top three last year if the season were a week or two longer.
Going big guns already this season, the Sport Club are looking like the real deal, the youthful team buying into the coach’s mentality and not at all overwrought by the bigger teams in the league. A developing and maturing team, Freiburg boasts a number of players who’ve stepped up in the league and transitioned into international players, teenage starlets Giulia Gwinn and Kara Brühl, well versed with the testing league and given full-faith by Scheuer.
Yet to win any major honours as coach, if Freiburg and Scheuer keep up their upward curve, it’s only a matter of time.
Alen Stajcic – Australia
Though not a tournament year for Australia and Alen Stajcic to show off the full extent of their ability it was no less a year that saw the world reminded of the highly talented antipodean team.
At the helm for just three years, Stajcic has overseen the evolution of this crop of players, many of whom he helped develop in the NSWIS Women's Soccer Program, and can boast a new golden generation ready and willing to sink their teeth into a major tournament.
Well respected for his achievements, both domestically and internationally up to this point, the next two years promise to be special for Stajcic and his Matildas, the marriage of world class players and coach enough to make the team a force to be reckoned with.
Dominik Thalhammer – Austria
If there were few who predicted Denmark’s success at this summer’s European Championships, only one man and his pet turtle could have predicted Austria being a few penalty kicks away from a spot in the final.
Having intermittently shown a keen understanding of how they needed to play to beat the big teams there was little, bar a pre-tournament drubbing of the Danes to suggest that the team ranked 24th in the world could get out of a tricky group let alone reach the semi-finals. However, with a man deeply ingrained in the set-up of the national team, having worked with the players when they were younger and guiding them to Euro qualification, if there was anyone who could bring Austria glory, it was Thalhammer.
Employing a high press throughout the group stage, Austria came out fearless and shocked some of Europe’s best, before setting up to absorb Spain’s relentless pressure and push Denmark all the way to the spot, the coach worthy of the plaudits for getting his team to sing as they did.
Sarina Wiegman – Netherlands
When Arjan van der Laan was ousted at the end of 2016, there was nothing to suggest that the coming summer would bring any joy for a Netherlands team that failed to live up to expectations. Having seen a raft of internationals hang up their Oranje boots over the course of 2015 and 2016 the team looked a shadow of what it was, the younger crop of players showing plenty of promise but failing to truly harmonise on the pitch.
Heading for Euro disaster under van der Laan, the KNVB took the gamble to search for someone new, Wiegman given the interim role (as she had before van der Laan’s appointment) before taking permanent charge. Having been in and around the team since 2014, most notably assisting van der Laan, Wiegman transitioned seamlessly into her new role.
Making a number of subtle changes before setting on a favoured starting XI, the Dutch team had time to gel under their new coach, growing in confidence in the run up to the tournament before lighting up the pitches around the Netherlands, spurred on by the adoring home crowd. There is no question that very few coaches could take the underperforming team from the end of 2016 and turn them into European champions in the space of seven months, for this Wiegman has been – and should be – roundly celebrated.