Fresh from beating Birmingham City to reach the FA Women’s Cup semi-finals, Manchester City’s Natasha Harding talks her ambitions to help Wales reach a first ever Euro finals, how coach Ludlow has transformed the national women’s team and the progress of the game.
ORP: You’ve just come back from a friendly double-header with Slovakia, having won the first game but lost the second 2-1 were you happy with the way those games went?
NH: Well, we wanted to win both games when we set our targets for the start of the camp – and we should have won both of them, if I’m honest. The second game wasn’t at all what we have been about in recent months and I think that match showed us that we have to change our mentality as a squad if we are going to be able to achieve the things Jayne Ludlow wants us to.
We will, of course, take the positives from both games into our next camps. The main lessons I think we’ve learned from those two games are that we need to work on being more aggressive in a controlled manner and to continue competing throughout the full 90 minutes.
ORP: Ludlow has been the coach for about six months now. How well has she done since taking the Wales job?
NH: I think Jayne has done a great job so far with us – from changing our mentality, to also changing the conditioning of our players. We want to compete in major tournaments and I believe she will get us there. Jayne has worked on changing our mindset towards being more competitive within the squad and making us comfortable on the ball. Jayne has altered the whole feel of the squad with regards to team spirit and I think it is working.
Unfortunately, there’s only one or two of us that are privileged enough to be professional and training every day; Jayne is changing that and is getting the girls together for an extra session a week. That, of course, will be very beneficial for the people that don’t get to train daily and for us as a team in the long run.
ORP: The draw for Euro 2017 is coming up – is there anyone you’re looking forward to being matched with or hoping to avoid?
NH: I don’t think we are looking to avoid anyone at all – it will be tough regardless of who we get. But we want to qualify and to do that we have to embrace the challenge of bigger teams. This year 16 teams qualify instead of the previous 12, so there’s already a better chance of getting there and if we keep believing in Jayne and what she is doing, then I think we will. The focus is on us and qualifying; we know we can get there if we keep working hard and keep doing the things Jayne asks of us.
ORP: Last Monday the Wales Women’s squad took part in Fifa’s Live Your Goals initiative to build enthusiasm for football among girls and women. How important is it to have these campaigns to promote the game?
NH: It’s very important. Those that took part are the kids and people that buy the tickets to watch our games, so for us to give them our time pales in comparison to what they do for us. These initiatives also create interest in the game and always help the game grow in ways that coaches can’t necessarily do. A few players from the Wales squad play for English clubs but I think that just comes down to investment. In my opinion, I can’t see myself or many other Welsh players at the highest level returning to a Welsh league because, at this moment in time, it can’t quite offer what the English clubs can offer.
If in 10 years that changes, then I hope we would have contributed in some way. The way forward for the women’s game in Wales is simply through investment I think. Once we have that, it will only give Welsh women’s football a massive platform from which it can develop, improve and also compete regularly at the highest level.
The qualifying group stage draw for Women’s Euro 2017 takes place on Monday, April 20th in Nyon.
Read more from Jamie Thomas here.