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Friday 15 November 2019

New Dutch boss sees green shoots for Ireland despite structural challenge

Newly appointed Republic of Ireland women’s national team manager Vera Pauw
Newly appointed Republic of Ireland women’s national team manager Vera Pauw

The FAI's decision to go Dutch, yet again, in the hunt for an important role within the association has been labelled both as a game-changer and a kick in the teeth for domestic coaches.

That's a real welcome to the politics of Irish football for Vera Pauw, a much-travelled coach from Holland, who is today starting her first full day as manager of the Irish national team, on a contract which keeps her involved as as long as there is Irish interest in the Euro 2021 finals.

Pauw has vast experience in the game, having managed the women's national teams with Scotland, Holland and South Africa as well as other roles in the USA, Russia and Thailand.

The fact that the FAI lured her to the job, in a rushed but fruitful meeting in a German airport before the Dutch native went on holiday, has been seen as a major coup, and it will please those within the women's squad who called for an external appointment and not an in-house job.

Senior player Megan Campbell said earlier this year that she would have to consider her options if the FAI only looked from within to replace Colin Bell, so this appointment will please the current squad.

But there have been grumbles within the game here that home-grown and qualified coaches have, again, been overlooked in the hunt to replace Bell, who left his FAI role in June for what turned out to be a short-lived spell as No 2 at Huddersfield Town.

"A serious undermining of our home-grown coaches" was one online comment from a former League of Ireland manager. Others have wondered about the sway that the Dutch now have over Irish football, with Pauw in charge of the women's side and Ruud Dokter in his key post as High Performance Director.

But Pauw is proud of her Dutch roots, which include a link to one of the godfathers of the game, Rinus Michels as her husband, Bert van Lingen, worked closely with Michels.

"Michels was the third most important man in my life after my husband and my father. He was the coach of the century," she says.

"Football wise, he and my husband developed back then the new way of teaching which has now been adapted throughout the world, game-related coaching."

Pauw feels that the transformation of the Dutch women's national team has set a precedent for Ireland. The Netherlands are ranked third in the world, Ireland way down in 33rd place, but she claims that when Holland began their revival a decade ago, their side was in a worse position that the Republic are now, and she sees success as possible.

Qualification for the Euro 2021 finals is a clear target, with the finals location of England making a first-time qualification even more attractive. But Pauw has issues to deal with in the game here.

The fact that she will not be based in Ireland but will fly in and out shows the imbalance, where only a quarter of the senior international are based in Ireland.

And bringing the domestic game up to a level where players can really develop here, instead of having to go to the UK, Europe or the USA to make a living, is one of the main problems she will face. Players in the domestic league cannot even really be considered as semi-pros, such is the lack of money in the Women's National League.

"That is a difficult question because to change that you need money. That is clear. You need to pay salaries or at least pay loss of earnings," she says.

"That is a crucial discussion in itself but one we're already having. We're trying to be creative in getting that done. If the gap between the home-based players and the professionals abroad is getting too big, you do not have a future in the game."

She points to experience where the careers of players suffered as they tried to juggle the demands of full-time work or study outside of football with the dedication needed to be a pro, and were overloaded.

"That has happened a lot in women's football and is also the reason that women's football did not develop a lot in recent years. The crowds developed but the level of the game did not develop internationally.

"In fact, it went down and the World Cup in 2011 was at a higher level than now technically. And that is because players were always overloaded.

"They had to work and study plus they had to train late at night and that means injures, they become heavy in their movements

"But creating a situation where they get the rest and sleeping hours , that is the big challenge."

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