From the Technical Director.

 Canada must produce more goal scorers and gifted individual players if it wants to win the Womens World Cup.

The top 12 teams in the world, plus two or three more, have become so evenly matched that individual brilliance will be the difference between winning and losing.

Thats the verdict of Tom Sermanni, Canadas assistant coach at the recent tournament.

The gap between teams has closed, he said. Teams are equalling each other out and there are not that many outstanding individual players to make the difference.

As the gap between teams gets tighter, game winning players will become more and more important. Teams have to pay attention to producing special players, players who can score goals and create them.

Sermanni knows of what he speaks.

Former coach of the U.S. and Australian national teams, he was brought in by Canadas Head Coach John Herdman several months before the World Cup to help in the teams preparation.

I first met the highly regarded Sermanni while working in Australia in 2010 as the Technical Director for Tasmania.

Sermanni, 61, was born in Glasgow, Scotland. He played professionally in Scotland, England, Australia and New Zealand.

In Scotland, he played for Cumbernauld United, Albion Rovers and Dunfermline Athletic. In England, for Blackpool and Torquay United. In Australia, he turned out for Canberra City and in New Zealand for Christchurch United.

When his playing career ended he turned to coaching, working in both Australia and the U.S.

He coached womens teams in the U.S. from 2001 to 2004.

In 2004, he returned to Australia to coach the national womens team, having previously coached that team from 1994 to 1997.

He took Australia to the World Cup quarter-finals in 2007 and 2011, the same stage Canada reached this year before losing to England.

In October, 2012, Sermanni was hired to coach the U.S. national womens team and took up the role on January 1, 2013

He finished his first year with the U.S. unbeaten -13 wins and 3 draws - and won the Algarve Cup.

The U.S. started 2014 with a 10 win over Canada and 70 and 80 victories over Russia.

At the 2014 Algarve Cup, the U.S. did not win a game in the group stages and ended up finishing seventh in the tournament with a  30 win over Korea DPR.

In April, 2014, just after the U.S. beat China 2-0 in an exhibition game, Sermanni was unexpectedly let go, despite an outstanding overall 18-2-4 record, a 75% winning percentage.

Sermanni did not see his dismissal coming and was completely blindsided.

He subsequently became a technical consultant for the Canadian team and was later appointed as an assistant coach.

Sermanni said the 2015 World Cup in Canada was strange in some senses. It was well run with great crowds, but it lacked a real spark in some of the games. There was none of the edge of your seat stuff from previous world cups.

Perhaps, he said, increasing the number of teams from 16 to 24 had an impact.

There were more teams, it was more competitive and it was more even, he said.

The standard of play was up, teams were technically better, better prepared, more tactically astute and the physical gap was closer. Teams no longer ran out of steam.

Sermanni said resources have to be aimed at improving the development of young players, including providing better coaches at youth levels.

Emphasis has to be placed on skill and technique, especially at the ages of 12 and 13 and even a little younger, said Sermanni.

To help that process, he believes there is a need for high performance centres specialising in developing players at an early age, where they can work on skills and techniques.

The womens game, he said, is getting more serious all the time, noting that some teams

at the World Cup had 15 to 20 people on staff.

Personally, Sermanni is not a fan of a large staffing entourage.

You can end up with more problems among staff than among the players, he said.

Whatever the number of personnel, he said teams now have resources in place for all contingencies, from science, to research and psychology.

But, he emphasized: There has to be a balance. It is still a game of football and the core values of football remain the most important thing. In the end, it is still decided by the players on the field.

Overall, he feels Canada performed well.

Canada was a team oriented team, he said, adding that the players did all that was asked of them and followed the plans that were prepared.

Actually, he said, the best game the team had was the one that they lost against England.

He said everyone was disappointed at the loss and he felt that there was a time in the game when if Canada had scored it would have gone on to win.

Sermanni said every match for Canada was a battle.

Every game was tight, with not much in it in every case, he said.

He acknowledged that a failure to find the net caused difficulties.

We did not score a lot of goals, he said. It seemed at times that we did not have enough players that could score goals for us. Other teams were in the same position, such as China and New Zealand.

The Canadian team did not have quite as many gifted players as some of the other teams, he added. It was a team oriented team, blue collar. Others had a greater amount of outstanding individuals. The U.S. had five or six, the French three or four, similarly the Germans. These teams had individual players who can win you games, who can make a difference. With the game becoming tighter, such players are becoming more and more valuable.

Carli Lloyd, the U.S. midfield player, pretty much won the World Cup for the U.S. on her own in the final, he said. She was brilliant.

Canadas philosophy during the World Cup was to take one game at a time, he said, and there was a general optimism in the camp that the team could reach the final four.

And, as Sermanni added, when you reach the final four, anything can happen, as demonstrated in a number of games that conjured up unusual circumstances and outcomes.

For example, he said, England looked as though they would lose to Norway, then scored a scrambled goal at a corner and won thanks to a superb individual strike.

Then, he added, after beating Canada, he felt England were doing enough to beat Japan, but fell to a freak own goal that will never happen again.

I discussed the topic of athleticism with Sermanni and any possible emphasis still remaining in Canada on producing physically strong players rather than homing in on skills and technique.

He said people get mixed up in terms of players being physical or technical.

Players still need good physical qualities, but in the young age groups you need to work on skills and technical qualities.

He also emphasised a need for young players to learn balance, to be able to turn, push off on the left foot, push off on the right foot, agility.

As for isolated fitness training at young ages, Sermanni is not a fan.

Running up and down in straight line on the field is pointless, it has to be done in relation to the game of football, he said.

Sermanni said physical qualities, such as strength and endurance, can be worked on later, at the age of 15 or 16.

There is a lack of technical training at young ages, with too much emphasis on winning as opposed to playing, he said.Everyone wants to win, but it cannot take over from learning the game properly. If it is win at all costs, then development gets lost.

I saw an example in a recent game. I watched a girl launch at least 25 long-throws, 35 yards into the opponents penalty area. There was not one variation. As soon as she picked up the ball all the players got at least 25 yards away, but she never thought that it would be a good idea to take advantage with a shorter throw.

You have to teach the game, give players good habits and help them become better decision makers and players.

Sermanni feels that the game at young ages is far too structured.

Coaches feel that they have to interfere, to put a structure or plan in place, he said. Let the kids play freely. They have to be encouraged to try things, to think for themselves.

He said there should be time allotted at every training session for free play, particularly for young players.

Sermanni mentioned how players go to camps and courses to learn all kinds of individual moves, but yet you hardly ever see kids try them in games, perhaps because coaches dont allow it.

Free play is so important, for players to dribble at someone, he said. How are we going to get match winning players if everything is structured.

Even at higher levels, freedom is important, said Sermanni.

Attacking play should not be so structured. Defence, yes. Attack, no. If attacking play is too structured, a players instincts are nullified and there will be no improvisation, he said.

The conversation turned to professional womens leagues, such as in the U.S. and Australia.

As Sermanni pointed out, many players aged between 17 and 22 attend colleges and universities in the U.S., so would be entering such leagues at a late age.

The college and university players are scattered across the country, out of the system and out of your control for four years, he said.

Not only that, he said, but at college, there are restrictions on how often players can practice.

That same situation exists with the mens college game in the U.S., he said, but has been gradually changing because of the strength and growth of major league soccer.

MLS clubs have academies and more male players are skipping college to become professionals.

He said one female U.S. player, Lindsey Horan, is one of few, if not the only woman who has skipped college to play professional soccer, in her case with PSG in France.

He says several Australian players have turned to a professional career in the same way.

This is a huge individual decision, he said, not the least of which involves whether they can make enough money to turn soccer into a career.

Finally, Sermanni talked on the topic of practice.

Kids should practice as much as they can, he said, both informally and formally. Just practising twice a week with a team is not enough if you want to be an elite player.

He noted how he used to play soccer every day at school and in the street until our parents hauled us in.

I barely remember receiving any formal coaching, he said. We simply just played football and thats how we learned our skills. There could be fences, lampposts, curbs, pavement, even cars in the way. We taught ourselves and made decisions accordingly, not the least of which was avoiding the lampposts.

Unfortunately, he said, street soccer has all but vanished.

It is one of the big issues, he said. I would have meetings with coaches and this issue would be discussed. But it was not only the fact that street football was not played anymore that was talked about, but that in fact kids did not play anymore at all.

They dont climb trees and jump or fall out of trees, they dont jump fences. They dont learn the movement skills I spoke of earlier as part of growing up. Now we have to formulate and structure the teaching of skills that kids no longer learn naturally.

 

 

 

Copyright: Steve Payne