Hope Powell CBE

01 Sep 2012

HOPE POWELL: THE INSIDER

Listening to Hope Powell talk eloquently and at length about football management, what hits you harder than a Muhammad Ali right hook is her unquenchable thirst to be the best. Her determination and drive is simply intoxicating. It’s not over-egging it to say that in her 14-year tenure as the manager of England Women’s team, she has transformed beyond all recognition their standing, so much so that they are now one of the leading world powers, sitting ninth in the FIFA rankings at the time of writing.

During that journey from also-rans to potential tournament winners, Powell has been a pioneer for the women’s game, having starting out playing with her brother and other boys in the streets and ‘ending up being a lot better than them.’ She was the first woman to take the UEFA Pro Licence, the first woman to manage the England Women’s Team and has managed her country in more matches than any other national manager, including the late Sir Walter Winterbottom.
As far as the FA and the general public are concerned, Powell has done a wonderful job. Yet the former Millwall Lionness is far from satisfied. The 45-year-old – born in England men’s glorious 1966 World Cup winning year – will not rest until she has something tangible to show for her efforts in the shape of a major trophy in the cabinet. Even then, she will demand more. She wants nothing less than for England women to dominate world football for years to come. “I was devastated when we got to the European Championship final in 2009 but didn’t win it, and I don’t like to talk about it even now,”said Powell. “In the World Cup last year we got to the quarters and that was never enough. Even if we did win it wouldn’t be enough. Only if we win it 10 or 15 times would I be happy, which is the attitude I try to drill into the squad. I always want to be better.”

After being hooked on football at an early age, Powell made it her mission to make a living from the game, even though at that time, there were no female professionals. She became a capable attacking midfield player, influential for both club and country. All the time, however, she was also showing the kind of foresight that was to later stand her in good stead by planning for the end of her playing days, taking her first coaching qualification at 17.

Powell said: “When Ted Copeland was in charge of the England squad he told a few girls that he wanted to mentor them to become coaches. That never quite materialised, but it did make me realise that I would like to be involved in coaching. I coached various teams; boys, girls, men, women, disabled teams and I went to America for three months just to get even more experience.”

But the stakes rose significantly when Powell took a call from the FA in 1998 to say they wanted her as England Women’s team manager. Not only that, but they saw her as the ideal candidate to change the whole organisational structure of the women’s game right through the age levels. It was a role she was delighted to take on, with the backing of the LMA’s chairman Howard Wilkinson.

“Howard was instrumental, allowing me to put a plan into action,” said Powell. “He asked me what I needed and took it to the FA board and made sure I got it. He also pushed me to do my Pro licence and was something of a mentor.

“When I started we just had a senior team and the crux of under 19s. Now we have seniors, 23s, 20s, 19s, 17s 15s, a centre of excellence and a good structure. Quite a few in my support team are ex-players and people who have been hand-picked. Some have been with me for 10 or 11 years, so you build a relationship. It’s been a clear philosophy that we made together.”

It’s been a long-standing frustration of Powell’s that the women’s game still struggles for exposure, with the media being there ‘for the major Championships, but not when we play in Blackpool.’ So the irony is not lost on her that such a lack of scrutiny – the type that is so intense in the men’s game – has enabled her to implement a long term strategy without fear.

Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Steve McClaren, Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson have shared the equivalent male role during the period of her England reign.

She said: “The environment of women’s football is very different to men’s and thankfully, at the start, it wasn’t results orientated.If it was, I’d probably not still be here. I brought in young players and started afresh and we went to Norway and lost 6-0, but there was no panic. I was given time, which allowed me to build a sustainable programme.”

Powell has a very clear vision on how she intends her teams to play and also her role as a leader. She’s a tough cookie and insists it has to be that way. “I never compromise myself and my beliefs,“ she said. “I will always let people have a voice and it’s okay to disagree, but when I’ve thought about it, I have the final say. You have to set the boundaries, that you can do this, but not that. If you cross the boundary, I simply will not pick you – and there and no compromises.

“I like the players to have ownership of their development and success. I believe that as a leader you don’t have to always lead from the front. I think you can lead from the side, from behind, and allow people to lead themselves.”

With European Championship qualifiers against the Netherlands in June and Croatia in September sandwiched either side, Powell is to lead Team GB Women into this summer’s London 2012 Olympics alongside men’s manager Stuart Pearce, who she knows well from being on the same Pro Licence course.

As the eyes of the world are to focus on the capital, Powell is keen to put on a good show for the many millions of television viewers and said: “What it can offer women’s football in terms of kudos, profile and legacy is absolutely fantastic. It will help us get some more coverage in the media as our game is the opening event of the Olympics and there are no other events on that day.”

But what of the distant future? Not surprisingly, Powell knows exactly what she wants. “I’d like to be the technical director of women’s football in this country,” she said. “I want to be able to take focus on all of the squads and really engage with our disability squad, who need more support.

“The women’s game is in danger of reaching a plateau and I don’t want to let that happen, so I want to influence lower down the pyramid with women’s super league clubs and grass roots. We’ve done well in women’s football, in spite of hurdles, and I want to keep pushing the progression.”