The overall standard has improved greatly, although there are obvious shortfalls, which I’ll come to later.
I’m currently in Sweden covering the Gothia Cup, a youth tournament where boys’ and girls’ teams from all over the world compete.
But of course the Women’s European Championships is also in Sweden. I’ve watched two of the matches so far, and Germany’s women are absolutely brilliant. I’d never really watched much of them back when I had a stronger interest in women’s football, and certainly not put them in the same category as the USA and Brazil, the traditional women’s powerhouses.
But Germany have become a force since they surprised everyone by winning the 2003 World Cup – I just hadn’t had a chance to check them out for myself.
They pass the ball exceptionally well, and their movement is superb. Like the Scandinavian sides, they are tall, strong, powerful athletes in their own right, and I was hugely impressed by their goalkeeper Nadine Angerer.
She is a very capable custodian, does not make mistakes, and has great reflexes. If you were a chauvinist you may say you wouldn’t expect it for a woman, but I have watched the women’s game long enough to know there are some good keepers there.
I mention the keepers because there has been a bit of a fuss after the Daily Mail published an article, where one of their columnists suggested the women’s game would improve if they let men go in goal.
That’s patently a ludicrous suggestion – it’s the women’s game and you can’t make exceptions in certain positions. If we did that England’s men could probably do with a few of the women’s midfielders, as they’re better on the ball than some of the lads!
Obviously that piece was written so everyone could blog about it and go mad on Twitter, and I understand a lot of women have given the writer grief.
On a wider level, though, there is clearly some discrepancy in goalkeeping ability and other positions in women’s football. Germany and the Scandinavian countries have it in order, but you do see a lot of below-par keeping.
While using men is not the solution, the women’s game can learn a bit from the men’s game. Goalkeepers should be among the tallest players on the pitch. Germany, Holland and Sweden’s sporting culture is such that most of the players are above 5‘9” (bearing in mind the average height for a woman is more like 5’5” or 5’6”).
They also have a handball culture, which may help when players are juniors coming through – given the physical and technical demands of handball, that sport’s players often make excellent keepers.
England, meanwhile, tends to struggle with goalkeepers, although not as badly as other nations. Our keeper, Karen Bardsley, is basically American, having been born and raised there, and is the right height at 5’11”. But she makes some bad errors, often gets caught out positionally, and is regularly beaten from range.
But she’s the best we’ve got – maybe the women’s game needs to look at how the men have been working hard to improve their keepers. We now have an excellent men’s keeper in Joe Hart, having had problems in that position, and several promising back-ups.
Probably there needs to be more aggressive recruitment and development for women’s goalkeepers – finding girls of the right size and moulding them into top class keepers.
Another thing England’s women have lacked is a cutting edge. Their problem is different from our men though – the girls have lots of technical ability in midfield, but up front they don’t have much variety and lack natural finishers.
The men’s problem is ball-playing midfielders, the women’s is with strikers, with Kelly Smith at the end of her career and Ellen White not really up to it right now. The women tend to go further in tournaments, scraping out narrow wins when midfielders get the goals, although that may not be the case this time.
This time out there has been an added defensive issue, with individual errors possibly a result of fatigue or pressure. England should have whipped Russia, and should not have lost to Spain. They now must beat France, who are one of the favourites for this tournament. A very tough ask.
Even though they may go out at the first round, I still think Hope Powell is the right woman for the job.
She gets a lot of flak, despite having reached a European final and two World Cup quarter-finals. She knows the game very well, was a good player and has been involved in the women’s league since the start.
There is a lot to be said for consistency, particularly when you cannot name anyone else – certainly no woman – with her qualifications or experience. It is important that England’s coach is English, and female, because that is who she represents. She was the first woman to get the UEFA Pro Licence and is one of the top coaches in English football.
The problems Hope faces are similar to those any men’s coach will face – other nations, in this case Germany, France, the Scandinavian and American teams – have better technique and athletes. Our young girls play more football than many nations, but not as much as the ‘elite’ countries, where the game is actively promoted among girls and, in some cases, seen as a woman’s sport. It makes me laugh when sexists talk about it being a ‘man’s game’ when all those fellows are rolling around and diving – you never see the women do that.
Hope has a relatively wide pool of women to choose from, but they are not quite up to the same level as other nations.
It’s a similar disease to the men’s game, but not quite the same. And even if they do go out of the Women’s Euro, it’s in a better state for sure.
- Sports & Recreation