Sunday, 10 January 2010

Alex Scott Interview

Whilst women’s football in England has yet to achieve professional status, all this will change by 2011 with the inauguration of a new Super League. Looking ahead to this new era, Nick Grounds talks to England’s Alex Scott about the switch to professionalism and the differences it will make to the national side.

It is September 10th 2009 and England’s Faye White is leading her side out in Helsinki to face Germany in the final of the Women’s European Championships. Fast forward 90 minutes, and a 6-2 reverse and a lesson in how to kill off a game at the highest level duly follows. But England’s defeat to Germany was not a true reflection of the final, nor an indication of how far England have come under Head Coach Hope Powell since her appointment in 1998.

Not since the euphoria of Sir Alf Ramsey’s triumph with the men’s side in 1966 have England tasted success in a major tournament. However, there are already indications that, should Fabio Capello fail to deliver the ultimate prize in international football next summer, Powell’s women may well be the team to end the jinx and bring home the 2011 Women’s World Cup, fittingly to be held in Germany.

Quite a change, since Sir Trevor Brooking, Director of Football Development, speaking in October 2006, said the England women’s side that had just reached 2007’s World Cup, had done so “without structure.” But a quarter final place in that competition and a runner’s up medal against all the odds in this year’s European Championships have elevated the side to eighth in the FIFA Women’s World Rankings. So in terms of Booking’s assertion three years ago, what has changed and what does the future hold for a sport clearly on the way up?

In September 2008, a year before England reached their first official final, FA Chairman Lord Triesman revealed plans for the new professional Super League in England from 2010. Whilst this has now gone back a year – owing to a review of the FA’s financial commitments in the global economic downturn – the league will run from the summer of 2011 and rival the USA’s Women’s Professional Soccer league (WPS) and Germany’s Bundesliga.

Meanwhile, England’s talent, frustrated at having to wait until 2011, began a mini-exodus to the US, in time for the inaugural 2009 WPS season. Eniola Aluko, at 22 seen by many as an England mainstay for years to come, joined Saint Louis Athletica, while Kelly Smith, the symbol of the women’s game in England scoring a staggering 73 goals in 66 Arsenal appearances, was drafted in by Boston Breakers.

One of Smith’s new team-mates, England’s right-back Alex Scott, is another player to have pursued the American dream.

Blaming the uncompetitive nature of the current Women’s Premier League for her decision to crack America, Scott agreed with White’s condemnation of the league as “unstable”. Now professional, the defender revealed it was an opportunity she could not turn down and now she can focus all her energies on her football and concentrate on developing her game.

“Playing in America is like playing international standard every week because all the best international players are in the league,” she said.

“The standard’s a lot harder. Every game is a real fight – you don’t know whether you’re going to win, lose, or draw – whereas when I was at Arsenal, you could predict what was going to happen in the game.”

As WPS takes a breather and prepares for its second year, Scott admitted she eagerly anticipates its return in March after missing out on the play-offs by a point in the seven-team league.

“It ended up being a disappointing season for us as we were billed as one of the top teams along with Los Angeles.

“The league’s going to be even harder next year with all the other international players that will be joining us.”

Scott admitted she and Smith had adapted well to life in Boston, with the club catering to their every needs; providing them with both an apartment and a car each. So, would she be tempted by a return to play in the Super League?

“Never say never! But definitely, you’ll be able to play more and train more, so it’s an option,” she said.

“It will help retain some of England’s best players as they will be training everyday and playing will be their main focus – not having to struggle with a nine to five job as well.”

Intriguingly, only three English players will join the WPS in 2010, compared to seven British women in 2009 (Scotland’s Ifeoma Dieke represents the Chicago Red Stars) and although this evidence is only based on two seasons, perhaps the arrival of the Super League will help retain the UK’s best talent.

On top of the introduction of the Super League, the FA awarded 17 England players centralised contracts in May 2009 on a salary of £16,000. Although it is a meagre sum compared to the money on offer in the men's game, it is a step in the right direction, indeed, the FA are committing £1.28m to the scheme over the next four years.

Plans are advanced to appoint a performance manager who would oversee all the England women's teams, the FA talent development structure, players’ central contracts and liaise with and support the Super League, all with the purpose of closing the gap between England and the world’s best.

Following FIFA’s approval that an all-England team can represent Great Britain at London 2012, and the aforementioned changes, it all points to a promising few years ahead for England.

Scott added: “We were very disappointed with the score-line and everyone who watched the final knows we took the game to Germany and it wasn’t until the second half in a ten minute spell where they scored a lot of goals.

“The gap’s definitely closing and I think it will continue to close in time as we continue in the right direction.”

The FA must now ensure the Super League and the switch to professionalism does not suffer any further delays or it risks losing England’s most precocious talents to the professional leagues elsewhere and, more damagingly, prolonging the opportunity to reduce the gap between a force in waiting and the elite.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is really insightful Groundsy. Did you get this article in the women's magazine/website you've been doing work for? How is everything going anyway, I still need to finish my 100wpm but i've been putting it off big time.

We need to hav a cheeky get together. Sometime next week like the Thursday or summin?

Keep it real and I'll have no grounds for concern!