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2019 Women's World Cup

Tom Sermanni knows restoring New Zealand’s team culture is a nuanced task

Photo Copyright Lewis Gettier for The Equalizer

A lesson from 20 years ago, in one of his few stints coaching in the men’s game, still guides Tom Sermanni in his expeditions at the highest levels of women’s soccer.

Sermanni coached Sanfrecce Hiroshima FC of Japan’s J-League – the country’s top flight for men’s professional soccer – from 1997-99. He witnessed an influx of foreign managers dismiss Japanese soccer philosophies while simultaneously enforcing their own stylistic cultures, often creating a negative team environment for heavily domestic-based players.

The Scotsman’s brief tenure there has long since shaped his approach to entering new jobs: Establishing a culture is as much about listening as it is enforcing.

Now 64, Sermanni’s approach will be as important as ever. He has been hired to a short-term contract by New Zealand Football to guide the federation’s women’s national team to the 2019 World Cup – and, ideally, into the knockout stage for the first time ever. He inherits a team of players he is familiar with, but who have spent 2018 embattled with their federation.

“A lot of it related to the culture of the team and the organization. I think that’s the key thing,” Sermanni told The Equalizer, speaking to his conversations with New Zealand Football in the interview process. “I think with New Zealand, as [with] Aussies, Americans, Canadians – probably some other countries – every country has their own distinct culture. There’s kind of a European way of doing things, but then those countries that I mention have their own cultures that are similar. You need to be able to understand that. That comes in with the management side of things. If somebody comes in without an understanding of that, or trying to enforce ‘this-is-how-it-should-be’ culture, it often doesn’t go down well.”

Sermanni emerged from a list of five candidates which included United States U-20 and former New Zealand U-17 coach Jitka Klimkova. New Zealand has been without a coach, officially, since late July, when Andreas Heraf stepped down following a player revolt in which 12 current players accused the Austrian of bullying and harassment, among other misconduct.

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