Newly appointed U.S. WNT Head Coach Tom Sermanni plans to bring a "positive style of possession" to the team. Photo Credit: U.S. Soccer
U.S. Soccer News: The Future of Women’s Soccer in America – A Positive Style of Possession
On Tuesday, October 30, U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati announced to the world that an agreement had been reached with former Australia Women’s National Team Head Coach Tom Sermanni to replace former U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Pia Sundhage.
Tom Sermanni, who will officially take over on January 1, 2013, becomes the seventh head coach in U.S. WNT history. Sundhage had announced her desire to return home to Sweden in early September after the Sweden Women’s National Team head coaching position became available.
At a U.S. Soccer press conference, Tom Sermanni the new head coach of the U.S. Women's Soccer Team was bombarded with questions from media wanting to know just who this new coach was and how he would put his own stamp on women’s soccer in America. I was pleased to listen and ask questions and discover a glimpse of the man behind the title.
Sunil Gulati, President of U.S. Soccer, proudly spoke of Sermanni’s terrific reputation as a coach with both international experience and domestic experience. Gulati said “Sermanni knows the challenge ahead and is up to that challenge.”
Sermanni, a native of Glasgow, Scotland, spoke highly of the U.S. team, their success and the role they have played in developing women’s soccer world-wide and often referred to the team as the best in the world.
Sermanni said, in his lovely warm accent, that he was “delighted to be here and feeling very privileged to be given the No. 1 team in the world to coach.”
Tom Sermanni, Up-Close
New U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Tom Sermanni has a long and distinguished career both as a player and as a coach. The Glasgow-born Sermanni began his youth career with Cumbernauld United in his native Scotland.
Later he spent time on the English pitch with Albion Rovers, Blackpool and Torquay United before returning to Scotland to play with Dunfermline Athletic. Sermanni then moved “down under” to play with Canberra City in Australia and Christchurch United in New Zealand.
Sermanni’s coaching career kicked off in 1991 with Canberra Metros, which later became Canberra FC. In 1994 he began his first of two stints leading the Australia Women’s National Team, nicknamed the “Matildas,” and in 1995 he guided the team to an appearance in the FIFA Women’s World Cup after the taking the Oceania Football Conference title.
In 2001 Sermanni moved to the United States to become assistant coach for the Bay Area CyberRays of the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA), a position he continued through 2002. In 2003 he was named head coach of the WUSA New York Power, where he coached current USWNT players Christie Rampone and Shannon Boxx.
In 2004 Sermanni returned to Australia to again take up the reins of the Matildas, who reached the quarterfinal stage of the Athens Olympic Games. In both 2007 and 2011 Australia reached the quarterfinals in the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
The simple, take-away message? A Positive Style of Possession and Technical Development is the Key to Future Success says the Newly-appointed U.S. Women's National Team Head Coach Tom Sermanni.
Many are curious how Tom Sermanni was selected for the position. Initially, there was a review of a coaching pool of 30 people (individuals who either had expressed interest in the position or who Gulati and his team had reached out to), which was then reduced to a short list of seven. The top seven candidates were further evaluated before a final decision was made.
What were the criteria set by U.S. Soccer for Head Coach of the U.S. Women’s Team? In simple terms, it was to find a coach who could continue to guide the Women's National Team and become involved in a broader scope in player development.
Now the search is over and long-time Australian Women's National Team Head Coach Comes to U.S. Soccer with experience in three FIFA Women's World Cup Tournaments as well as other international competition.
Comfortable and confident, yet eager not to intimidate or step on the toes of those already working for U.S. Soccer, Sermanni explained that his style of play is what he calls “a positive possession” game of soccer.
Sermanni pointed out that although the USA may have won an astonishing number of its games over the past few years, women’s soccer is evolving rapidly and becoming more competitive. The USA used to have an advantage with speed and physical prowess. Now, according to Sermanni, to stay ahead in the game, technical abilities and intelligent play will reign supreme and will win against sheer force or speed.
Answering questions from a philosophical perspective rather than a detailed, planned-program perspective, Sermanni acknowledged that he has not had the opportunity to look around at the talent available in the U.S. and is eager to do so.
Sermanni explained that women’s soccer is constantly developing and that players as well as teams must constantly improve to stay on top. “The game is changing,” he said. "Just look at how the game has changed in the past twenty years. Even since the early 2000s, the game has changed and become more competitive.”
The new women’s head coach assured reporters that he does not plan on making radical changes, but wants to improve players individually and collectively as a team by focusing on his “positive style of possession.” Sermanni spoke highly of the current roster, but acknowledges he will be looking at the team to see who can play that style of soccer.
Believing that technical training should take priority in training and practice, Sermanni feels that players need to develop their tactical, technical and cerebral talents not just their strength and speed. “You no longer win games by pace and athleticism,” he explained.
The evolution of women’s soccer in the world has been rapid over a very short period of time. While the U.S. Women's team has enjoyed an advantage over the years in terms of physicality and power, that lead is quickly disappearing. Teams such as 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup champion Japan and European power France have become more focused on the technical side of the game, with good results.
Asked about working with U.S. Soccer Women’s Technical Director April Heinrichs and Women’s Development Director Jill Ellis, Sermanni responded, “I am hoping to be in close contact with April and Jill to chat about youth development. I’m not sure how much involvement they will want me to have with them. I am a great believer in coaches running their own teams and taking responsibility. I want to be available for the older development team coaches.”
“As a national coach, I would want to have communication with the youth teams and be visible,” Sermanni continued. “I don't want to step on their toes. The vastness of the country makes it very challenging to put together a development plan. In Australia we have a very big country, but we have more control over the youth programs and they have their similarity to the national team.”
On the subject of a professional women’s league in America, Sermanni believes that such a league is important for the development of female players. ““A domestic league would create an environment where there is greater competition and great opportunity for players,” he said.
Sermanni will have some time to put his stamp on the U.S. Women’s National Team, as the next World Cup does not take place until 2015. However, there will be other international competitions and opportunities to see how a new “positive possession” style compares to what is now in place. Asked how he will be judged in the end, Sermanni acknowledged “It all boils down to the record on the field.”
Perhaps the biggest news is that this head coach is interested in being a vital force in youth soccer and preparing future generations of players who can win the World Cup for the USA. When asked what female youth players should do to improve Sermanni responded with a strong emphasis on tactical training and practice.
U.S. Women’s National Team Quote Sheet from Media Call with Tom Sermanni
U.S. Soccer President SUNIL GULATI
“We’re very pleased that yesterday we were able to announce we’ve reached an agreement with Tom Sermanni to coach the Women’s National Team. It was a process that started pretty quickly after Pia confirmed to us in early September that she wanted to return to Sweden and subsequently took the Swedish National Team job. We started an immediate search and had about 30 people that expressed interest or that we reached out to at a serious level. From that, we had a shortlist of seven that we spoke with. We wanted someone who could continue to guide the Women’s National Team at a high level and keep us at the right place internationally, which is right now at the top, and also to become involved in a broader scope on player development. The latter would depend on a couple of things: time – availability in the course of any four-year cycle – and secondly, their interest and abilities in that area. In Tom Sermanni, we’ve got someone who can do all of that. We’ve got someone who has a terrific reputation as a coach both on a professional and a personal level in dealing with players. We’ve got a very strong team and we think he’ll be terrific with that. He also has a lot of international experience combined with domestic experience in the U.S. market when he was here for a few years as a coach at the professional level. I think we’ve done very well. We’re pleased that Tom has agreed to join. It’s on a long-term contract. He knows the challenge is to keep the team at No. 1 in the world and I think he’s excited about that challenge and up to that challenge.”
Closing comments on the conference call:
“We will have some more things to say about the development of a professional league within the next week to two weeks. Tom will start up in January on a full-time basis. He’ll be at the games in December and how much involvement he wants will be up to him at that time. Jill Ellis, as we said yesterday in the press release, will take the team through then. He’s already had some conversations with April, they talked by phone, as well, and we’ll get all of that launched in the end of January in terms of the team itself, but the work will start earlier. Thanks again. We’re excited about Tom joining the team.”
U.S. Women’s National Team head coach TOM SERMANNI:
“I’m just delighted to be here. I’m really excited by the challenge ahead. I feel very privileged and honored to be given this position. It’s not often you get the chance to coach and manage the number one team in the world and a team that has been a world leader for many, many years. I’m looking forward to getting started as soon as possible.”
On the style he wants the U.S. team to play:
“We’ve tried to improve the way our Australian team has played over the last few years and anyone that has watched us has hopefully seen that. I want to make clear that the U.S. team is a very good side. There are some very good players in the team, which you have to have to win the tournaments that they’ve won. I’ve always tried to play a positive, attacking style of football. I’ve always had a philosophy of trying to get players to play to their maximum ability rather than limit them. I’ve always encouraged players to try and take responsibility and within that I’ve always enjoyed to try to teach and develop players to play a good football style of play. That’s keeping with what I would call positive possession. We want to entertain teams, we want to play well and we want to win games.”
On how he looks at his role with a team that has achieved such a high level of success for such a prolonged period of time:
“I think it’s probably a balance of those two things. I don’t think you just sit back and hope upon hope that the team is going to continue to be successful. The game is changing at a rapid pace and if you look at women’s football now compared to 20 years, the quality of the teams, the closeness of the teams, is much more pronounced than it was back in the 90s or the early 2000s. You have to continue to keep improving. You don’t come into a team like this and suddenly make radical changes. That would be an unwise thing to do. But what you do need to do is continue to do is try to improve players as individuals, try to improve the team as a whole and try to create even more competition within the squad. It’s a balance between those things. Certainly, I don’t intend to come in here and initiate enormous change because I don’t think that is necessarily. But as you go along in the job, you’re continually changing and continually trying to improve the team.”
On the potential of a professional league and how that would assist in identifying talent in the U.S.:
“I can certainly talk about the [Australian] W-League that has made an enormous impact on the Australian team. We set up the W-League for a variety of reasons and I think those reasons are probably important in any country. One is to have a domestic profile in any sport and for the players. The other is to give opportunities for players to be seen and to play against National Team players and to see how good they are and if they have the potential to become a National Team player. A third reason is to develop players, particularly to develop younger players and get them into a professional environment. A fourth reason was to actually have a professional women’s competition for players, whether they were National Team players or aspiring National Team players or not, who want to play soccer at a serious level. We had all those reasons for trying to create the W-League and it has succeeded beyond my expectations and within five years managed almost to sort of redevelop the national team, being able to see players and give them that opportunity to play in a serious domestic competition for four or five months of the year.”
On whether those parallels could be brought to the U.S. in terms of a U.S. league or the U.S. team:
“I think every league differs slightly but I think some those same principles would exist. What’s important for any National Team to have competition for spots on the team and I think a domestic league would create an environment where there is greater competition and greater opportunities for players to get into the National Teams. That’s where I would see some kind of synergy between the W-League in Australia and a professional league in America.”
On what influence he might have over the other Youth National Team programs and how he would work with the youth programs:
“I would be hoping to be in close contact with (U.S. Soccer Women’s Technical Director) April (Heinrichs) and with (U.S. Soccer Women’s Development Director) Jill (Ellis) in relation to chatting about youth development. How much involvement they want me to have in it is probably up to them because that’s where their expertise is far greater than mine. As a National Team coach, I’m a great believer in coaches running their own teams and coaches taking their own responsibilities in terms of sorting out what they want to do. What I would like to be able to do is to be available for coaches at the Under-20 and Under-17 level, and anybody that is attached to youth development, to throw my two bones worth in, for want of a better term. Certainly, I don’t think it’s my position to come in and try to dictate how the younger teams play. I certainly think, as a National coach, I’d want to have some communications and to be around the youth teams and be visible in that regard and to be involved in that way. As I said, we have people who are doing those jobs and I don’t want to step on their toes.”
On the challenges of youth development in the USA:
“Because of the vastness of the country and the number of programs and club teams that are here, just getting a handle on all the things that happen, getting together a consistent development is very difficult and very challenging. The upside in America is that you have a great variety and vast numbers to work with. “
On whether he thinks integrating youth players into the U.S. WNT might be difficult considering the core group of players who have achieved much in the game:
“I need to do a little bit more research and planning before I can comment on the nuts and bolts of the program. What I will say is that, philosophically, we want to create greater competition within the National Team and in order to do that, you have to create opportunities for other players. Whether that’s younger players or players that are in their 20s and haven’t had opportunities, I don’t know yet because I haven’t really been out in the marketplace to have a good look around. I think the key thing is to be able to bring players into a National Team camp and give them opportunities and that’s what I want to try and do. The mechanics of that, I’m not quite sure about at the moment. I’m certainly not averse to throwing players into the mix and to try and develop players who are outside the established group at the moment.”
On whether he wants the U.S. to play a sophisticated, possession-style or whether he is okay with the more direct style that has worked reaped results in the past:
“That’s never been my style of coaching or the style that I like to play. I agree with Pia [Sundhage] and the direction that she wanted to go. I think that’s going to be the nexus of it, going forward. I think at the same time, you don’t want to take away some of the strengths. You want to improve some of the weaknesses but still keep some of those same strengths that the U.S. team has always had. Actually, it’s a huge strength that intimidates opponents, so you want to keep that, but you do want to keep developing your team to play a better brand of soccer, to play more…not possession for the sake of possession, but a positive style of possession, where the team is comfortable playing in tight areas, comfortable to back themselves in keeping the ball, comfortable to back themselves and be patient when they have to be patient. It’s a whole balance of those things, but still keeping the strengths that the team has at the moment. It’s just a case of continuing to persist with that and partly making the case into looking at the type of players that can actually do that as well. It’s trying to balance all those things and maintain a successful team at the same time. Going forward, I think it’s a reality in the modern day game that you no longer win games purely on pace and power and fitness. Those games have now become significantly narrower, so the actual soccer content and ability, and the technical content, is much more critical. The game is going to continue to go that way and we need to continue to strive as the U.S. team to improve in that area.”
On the priorities when he starts in January:
“Getting the lay of the land I suppose. I think when I start in January the first priority for me will be to explain to players what my intent is – what I intend to do in a soccer sense, what I intend to do in a management sense, how I intend to run the team and what I want from the team. That will be my starting point. From there, you sort of have a plan in place but it tends to meander and it tends to fluctuate as you go along. Things I think will alter as we go along. The basic premise that I want to have is that I want to maintain and improve the team as the No. 1 team in the world. I want to increase competition within the squad and I want to play a brand of soccer that’s positive, that’s technically good and is based around winning games.”
On if he has been briefed on expectations, both in major tournaments and in playing style and development:
“I think the results in major tournaments are probably the number one priority when it all boils down to it. We had discussions about being more involved in the overall program here and things underneath the national team, as well as soccer in America. I’ve always believed that the national coach is in some way the spokesperson and perhaps the figurehead for the game itself, particularly in female sports. We had some discussions around a more holistic involvement in the game, as well as the priorities for the national team, which are obviously number one.”
On whether he has had in depth discussions with April Heinrichs and Jill Ellis:
“Before anything official happened, April was in Australia last week. We had some general soccer conversations over quite a significant period of time over the last week, so I’ve already had a few conversations with April. Obviously at that stage I wasn’t the national coach, but as we do talk about soccer and various things we’ve already started that conversation in an informal way. I hope to be back here for the games in December and that will give me a great opportunity to catch up for a significant time with Jill and chat to her. I’m not sure, but perhaps at that time April might come along to the games and we can catch up then. I imagine these things will start as soon as possible and the conversations will be ongoing for some considerable time.”
On the most important aspects of youth player development and how the game will change in the upcoming years:
“I think technical development is the key. Technical development of youth players has to take priority over physical development. That doesn’t mean physical development gets completely ignored, but when I speak to younger players and coaches, that’s one of my key phrases. Coaches usually say to younger players they have to train harder. What I believe is younger players need to practice better, practice as well as they can and practice on improving how they play. By that, what I mean is how well they can dribble, how well they can pass, how well the touch is, how well their understanding of the game is. Rather than look at the training practices from a physical aspect, I think in youth development looking at your training practices from a technical aspect and improving how you can actually play the game is most critical and will continue to go that way. In the next generation of players, I think physical differences between teams will eventually be null and void and therefore the technical differences and the ability to play and understand the game will become much more critical focus.”
Having previous coached U.S. veterans Shannon Boxx and Christie Rampone in WUSA, how will he handle the older players as he looks toward 2015:
“I’d like to stress here is I don’t want to judge players on chronological age. I judge players on performance, on their ability to want to continue to play at the highest level and knowing the performance of players who are in competition with them. While I’ve certainly had a very good relationship with Christie and Shannon, and hopefully we will going forward, as a coach, part of this job is to be pragmatic and make decisions that you need to make in the best interests of the team. One of the key points I continually go back to in a team sense is every decision you try to make has to be in the best interests of the team. If you look at the team as it is at the moment, I would say Christie and Shannon are still probably two of the more dominant players on the team, and if they continue to do that and continue to be able to play international soccer at the level they can now, then that’s where the judgment will be made on them. I don’t want to look at it purely as an age factor.”
On his recent games against the USA and what he thought of how the team played:
“I think there’s misconception about the (U.S.) team. Teams get pigeonholed often and it’s a false perception of what they’re about. The U.S. team gets pigeonholed as a strong, physical team. This U.S. team is actually a good footballing team and they’ve got some very talented and gifted players in there. When I say footballing team I mean possession-based, technically competent team. That foundation is already there. It’s not like you’re trying to start from scratch to make a 180-degree change. It’s really just getting onto the training field with the players and trying to sort of continue to develop the style of play. It’s not just get out there to make changes. It’s continually to add to the quality of the play and to try to get the best out of the players and the squad.”
U.S. Women's National Team Quote Sheet on New Head Coach Tom Sermanni
Oct. 31, 2012
U.S. Women's National Team Midfielder SHANNON BOXX
On the hiring of Tom Sermanni:
“I’m very excited about the hire. Being coached by Tommy in the past, I thought he did a great job of managing the team and giving players confidence. He was one of the main reasons why I made the national team back in 2003. He’s helped Australia improve tremendously over the years and they are now competing with some of the best teams in the world. He has experience in big events and that’s really important for this team to have a coach that has been in those pressure situations.”
On moving the team forward:
“Pia came in and wanted to improve our attack and I think he will continue to take us down that road to keep getting better in that part of the game.”
On his coaching demeanor:
“He has a very calm presence and he allows you to play. He gives you a role and as long as you play your role, he will be fine with that player showing their personality on the field. I think that will be a positive for this team that has so many great talents and personalities.”
U.S. Women's National Team Forward ABBY WAMBACH
On the hiring of Tom Sermanni:
“Obviously, this is a great step for the Women’s National Team. He has proven his ability to bring young players into the mix and to mold veteran players to his style. He likes an attacking style and will be able to continue the progress we made with Pia. I’m excited for what the future holds.”
On his coaching demeanor:
“He’s a laid back kind of coach. He’s not the kind of coach that will be yelling all the time, but at the end of the day, the important thing that I know is on his mind is results, and the next stage is preparing for the 2015 World Cup.”
U.S. Women's National Team Midfielder MEGAN RAPINOE
On the hiring of Tom Sermanni:
“He’s going to bring the same kind laid-back relaxed atmosphere that has worked for this team, but he has a lot of good ideas and judging by the way Australia played in the last two games against us, I am very excited.”
On how Australia improved under Sermanni:
“In the two games we played against Australia in September, especially in the first halves of the games, I was impressed with how they kept the ball, were patient throughout the midfield, tried to keep the ball on the ground and were dynamic and unpredictable. His teams like to keep the ball on the ground and play an attacking style, which I like and is parallel with the way the world’s game is going.”
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