In November last year, the Football Association released a strategy for the future of women’s football called Inspiring Positive Change.
Among the various pledges and targets, English football’s governing body has declared a target for 75% of female coaches to be in manager or head coaching positions.
With the Euro 2022 winning England team led by Sarina Wiegman and Chelsea manager Emma Hayes being one of the most recognizable bosses in the domestic game currently, it initially appears that English football is being pushed upwards towards this ambitious goal.
But in the Women’s Super League (WSL), this is not the case.
Following the departure of Hope Powell from Brighton and the appointment of Jens Scheuer, only a third of current WSL managers are women.
They are Hayes at Chelsea, Carla Ward with Aston Villa, Kelly Chambers at Reading and Tottenham manager Rehanne Skinner.
It is reasonable to expect some change in these proportions given that there are fewer clubs in the women’s top divisions compared to men’s football – 24 in the WSL and Women’s Championship, 44 in the Premier League and the championship.
“We continue to develop our female coaches and prepare them for the professional game. There are a number of strong female coaches who have the experience and knowledge to lead and coach in the women’s professional game,” a spokesperson said. from the FA to BBC Sport.
However, as the viewership of women’s football grows, the spotlight on managers becomes ever brighter – as does the pressure to deliver results, as even extensive experience and knowledge cannot be enough to save a job.
Powell led England from 1998 to 2013, becoming one of the earliest known names in women’s football management. She took charge of Brighton in July 2017 and established them as a respected mid-table side in the WSL.
But she was dismissed after four defeats in five games to start 2022-23. While the catalyst for his departure was an 8-0 home loss to Tottenham, the other three defeats came against title-seeking Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea – the sides Brighton would not normally beat.
“We spent five years building foundations”
Powell said in farewell comments on the club’s website: “Sunday’s heavy home defeat was particularly disappointing.
“As a club we have made a lot of progress over the last five years but I think the time has come to step aside and allow a new manager to take the team forward with a lot of Super League football. yet to play this season.”
She was initially replaced by caretaker coach Amy Merricks, who spoke of the ground-breaking work Powell had done to build Brighton into an elite women’s side.
“I’m lucky to have worked so closely with Hope,” Merricks told the shimmer last month. “We spent the last five years building the foundation here. I believed so much in what she was doing and the way she handled people.”
Five years of work have passed after five games this season and, with Brighton seemingly facing a relegation fight, they have moved for former Bayern Munich manager Scheuer.
So what can be done to persuade WSL clubs to give more opportunities to female managers? This is primarily up to individual coaches, but the FA recognizes that it must work to provide pathways with the aim of bringing a succession of female coaches to the top of the professional game.
“We cannot dictate who clubs employ – it is at their discretion,” the FA spokesman said.
“We are, however, striving to grow the current pipeline, creating and developing more talented coaches with the skills to manage the expectations and pressures of coaching in a professional women’s club environment and the best league in the world.
“We are confident that the work we are doing and plan to do will increase the pool of female talent. The search will go further than we have done before to unearth talented female coaches who have a desire to work in the game. female professional.
“There is also the opportunity to help retiring players become coaches. There are more opportunities than ever for coaching to be a career in women’s football.”
For the WSL, the decline in the number of female managers has been sudden and puts on hold one of the league’s most notable factors compared to its elite competition.
“Getting women into coaching is the first step”
A 2021 RunRepeat Report revealed that at the time, the WSL was the only elite competition where the majority of permanent head coaches were women, at 56%.
For comparison, in the German Frauen-Bundesliga, the proportion of permanent female head coaches in 2021 was only 7%.
In the American NWSL two years ago it was 10%, 17% in France, 22% in Spain, 27% in the Women’s Champions League and up to 41% among the top international teams in the world.
The WSL has improved, with the number of female coaches at just 25% in 2015 and 2016.
In 2020, that figure was two-thirds, but has been falling ever since.
Since the start of last season, Birmingham City have lost Ward as Villa manager, after which they appointed Scott Booth and then Darren Carter before being relegated.
Casey Stoney left Manchester United to be replaced by Marc Skinner, while at the start of this campaign Lydia Bedford was sacked by Leicester and former Everton boss Willie Kirk was appointed.
The majority of these male coaches are more than qualified – Skinner previously managed Birmingham Women and Orlando Pride, and established United as serious contenders in the 2022-23 WSL title race.
However, the decline in the number of female coaches is an issue the FA say they want to tackle.
It has dedicated core trainer developers who support women in training and help them develop their skills. These developers also work within local county football associations to provide training and apprenticeships for coaches.
There are free online courses and goals, and funded places are available in grassroots football for people from groups that have historically been under-represented in football.
“Getting women into coaching is the first step, supporting them once in their role and providing them with lifelong learning experiences that allow them to develop their expertise and understanding so they stay in the game,” said the FA spokesperson.
“The female coaching career is still in its infancy, but we are committed to having a diverse workforce in our pipeline that is ready for professional play.”