Hope Powell got more attention at Euro 2013 than she could have imagined — the problem is that the majority of it is calling for her firing.
England exited Euro 2013 in the group stage, which was capped off by a 3-0 whooping at the hands of France. The digression of the squad at this point is clear — this being the England that made the final of Euro 2009, came up short on penalty kicks (it’s England, of course) in the 2011 World Cup quarterfinals against the French (of course) and showed promise (albeit as Team Great Britain) at the 2012 Olympics, advancing to the quarterfinals again.
England looked uninspired and out of answers at this edition of the European Women’s Championships, and a British press which has largely ignored women’s football suddenly wants Powell done away with immediately. Of course they do.
Likewise, France faltered at a major tournament yet again on Monday, losing in penalty kicks to Denmark. France looked like it had the easy knockout phase draw for a trip straight to the final, but instead, one of the most disproportionately talented teams to never win anything just finds itself sitting at home yet again.
At Euro 2009, France were unable to score against the Netherlands in the quarterfinals and fell on penalty kicks. Les Bleues came alive at the 2011 World Cup and despite dominating the United States for large stretches in their semifinal, lost 3-1 to the Americans. France would go on to lose the third place game to Sweden and a stoppage time collapse in the bronze medal game at the 2012 Olympics would again cost them a place on the podium.
And so two teams that have for several years shown promise — countries on the verge of the next level of competition, we all thought — continue to over-promise and under-deliver.
On July 14, The Daily Mail ran a thought-provoking column titled, “Let’s stop being nice about women’s football.” The piece, by Laura Williamson, noted how fans and media alike often take it easy when covering women’s soccer. In the men’s game — journalists and supporters are calling for managers’ heads after one bad loss, or screaming for a player to be benched following every poor touch.
But women’s soccer still remains relatively nice. The calls for coaching changes are typically whispered, if uttered at all (maybe less so in the Bini’s case, who seems to have faced naysayers for years).
I too am guilty of this — it’s always a fine line to call for someone to fired. They are, after all, human beings with lives just like the rest of us. The unfortunate nature of their profession is that every move they make is in the public eye.
But Williamson has a point. And while I don’t agree with her every word, the general message is one that I have quietly preached for some time: In order for women’s soccer to grow up, both its supporters and media must do so as well.
We have to stop treating women’s soccer as this second-rate sport and with this super gentle approach. Likewise, players and coaches must also be able to deal with such criticism. This is soccer; this is sport. There are winners and there are losers. There are great players and there are players who don’t cut it. There are great coaches and then there are even coaches who are great, but who no longer fit where they are.
There we find Powell and Bini. The latter has had ample opportunity to put France — one of the most individually technically gifted teams in the world — onto a podium at a major tournament. He has failed. The next major tournament is the 2015 World Cup, and the talent — from Laura Georges in the back, to Louisa Necib, Gaëtane Thiney, Marie-Laure Delie and Eugénie Le Sommer — is all well in place. But without some sort of change in mindset — some way to ignite a fire in this French team — they are destined for more disappointment.
And in the case of Powell, it’s hard to see how she can quickly right this ship. In the days following England’s exit, she has vowed sweeping changes to rebuild, but insists more investment is needed. She isn’t wrong there.
But after 15 years at the helm, perhaps its time for change in England, too.
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