LYON, France >> Just like four years ago, a female coach will lift the Women’s World Cup.
This time, though, it is guaranteed.
When Jill Ellis bids to complete the American’s title defense against Dutch counterpart Sarina Wiegman on Sunday it will be only the second Women’s World Cup final contested by two female head coaches.
“I think it’s a wonderful statement,” Ellis said. “The players do their thing on the pitch and there’s a lot of young women or former players that want to coach. I think to see coaches doing it is really important.”
The previous time two female coaches went head-to-head in a final was 2003 when Tina Theune-Meyer’s Germany beat Marika Domanski-Lyfors’ Sweden.
The first three editions of the Women’s World Cup were won by male coaches: Anson Dorrance with the U.S. in 1991, Even Pellerud with Norway in 1995 and Dorrance with the U.S. in 1999. But of the four subsequent editions, Norio Sasaki is the only man to have lifted the trophy when Japan triumphed in 2011.
Ellis will seek to become the first person — man or woman — to successfully defend the trophy.
Not only are opportunities limited but so is the pool of female coaches for federations to pick from. Of the 954,943 coaches worldwide tracked by FIFA, 93 percent are men.
“There aren’t enough of us in the game in coaching … especially in the States at every level, whether it’s collegiate, whether it’s our professional league,” said Ellis, who has coached the national team since 2014 after joining the federation in 2000.
Ellis already had extensive experience as a head coach at the college level by that time. She coached at Illinois for two years before coaching UCLA from 1999 to 2010. She led the Bruins to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament eight times.
According to Sunil Gulati, who appointed Ellis to the U.S. job in 2014, coaches are reluctant to leave the college system for teams in the National Women’s Soccer League.
“The best coaches or coaches with experience of women’s soccer are at universities,” said Gulati, the U.S. Soccer Federation president until last year. “There is no way Anson Dorrance (North Carolina since 1979), Mark Krikorian (Florida State since 2005) . are going to leave a secure position that is essentially for life, as long as you do reasonably well, for a job that might or might not be tenure for a job, that is one or two years in contract, perhaps less money in frankly a league that is still growing where there is some instability. They are not going to do it.”
Seven of the nine NWSL coaches are men, with one vacancy.
“As long as the pipeline (for women) is blocked essentially at the very top level,” said Gulati, who is a member of the FIFA Council, “it’s impossible to get those with the same qualifications.”
That will be achieved with more coaching programs and getting more women on the sidelines from the youth ranks upward.
“We need to have a conversation about providing the foundation for more women coaches to excel to this level,” U.S. star Megan Rapinoe said Saturday. “So then you’re getting to the position where you maybe have 10 candidates and it’s sort of equal on both sides.”
The foundations for the Dutch run to a first Women’s World Cup final began a decade ago when Vera Pauw led them to the semifinals at the 2009 European Championship during their tournament debut. Amid what she felt was a macho culture, Pauw left her job in 2010.
“In the association nobody ever congratulated me and from that moment intimidation was going on,” Pauw told the Equal Playing Field conference in Lyon on Friday.
Wiegman is sure the culture has changed.
“When Vera was coach it was a pretty long time ago and she had those struggles,” Wiegman said. “In all those years things changed and I don’t have the struggles she had. Before the European Championship (in 2017) we had a lot of help. Our staff has changed, has improved. We have more facilities and I also think that is part of the development of the team.”