Mark Sampson won’t be the only English coach at this summer’s Women’s World Cup in Canada. Indeed, the boss of the hosts himself was born and raised in County Durham before pursuing a coaching career abroad. After time in charge of the women’s side in New Zealand, the 39-year-old is ready to guide the host nation to potential glory in 2015.
You worked as manager of the New Zealand women’s team for five years before moving to Canada, what was it that attracted you to pursue a career in the women’s game?
When the opportunity came up to work in New Zealand with the youth national teams I decided to give it a crack. I had worked with some girls with the national federation. It was an area of coaching I enjoyed and it seemed like my philosophy, style of coaching and approach was conducive to female athletes.
Moving to Canada has definitely been a huge opportunity for me. When I worked in New Zealand for a long period of time I developed a team of 18 to 23-year-olds, many of them were at the beginning of their international journey and they were the core of my squad.
Coming to Canada gave me the chance to work with players who are 27 to 30 plus, women who were generally ready to take on that responsibility and take accountability for leadership during the training. I think that was a big shift and again it complimented my style and my approach.
This is your first World Cup with Canada, how prepared do you feel and what are the strengths of your squad?
Canada has expectations for the team but there is a reality there. The team sits outside the top five teams in the world and we are going to need home support as the x-factor to push us through.
I think one of the big strengths is that the team are ready to embrace that and not see it as a burden or curse of additional expectation or pressure.
Despite the fact you’re an English manager, not many people will know a lot about you. Tell us a bit about your managerial style; did you pick up any particular inspirations growing up?
I am an inclusive coach that aims to empower players to take responsibility for the high level of training and the performance they put in out on the pitch. Generally, as a manager, I think you look at different ways of doing things and other managers. I was always a big Kevin Keegan fan when he was at Newcastle. I admired his style of play and I admired Bobby Robson for his man-management skills.
In New Zealand, I had some great experiences; they have a wonderful structure and development system for high
performance coaches. I got a chance to work alongside coaches outside football and liaised with some of the top
rugby, netball, cricket and triathlon coaches. It gave me a chance to get a different insight into things that women’s football that might have been lacking or missing – things like sports science and sports psychology and
other things I wasn’t aware of.
You’re in a group with your old team. Does that give you an advantage and how much are you looking forward to coaching the hosts of the tournament?
I know the New Zealand squad very well and that does give me a slight advantage but at the same time they know me as a coach and know my approaches.
We have a win record over them and I think Canada is the stronger team. They will give us a hell of a game, I am sure about that, but I am pretty confident we will get the result we need.
As a sport we are very well supported: both financially and by the fans. At our home matches we’ve had 3,000 plus in Winnipeg to watch us and you will see us fill the stadiums when we play our matches this summer. The exciting thing is the legacy that it will leave.
The whole thing is a game changer for our country; it will bring the best of women’s sport to Canada. It will go city to city, coast to coast, and will be the biggest sporting event we have ever hosted in Canada in terms of the coverage.
Tell us a bit about the Canada players we should look out for this summer?
Due to injuries that have cropped up over the last year, we have had to draw on a lot of young players. They have got more opportunities than I think people expected.
We have a young trio of Kadeisha Buchanan, Ashley Lawrence and Jessie Fleming, all under the age of 20 who are going to potentially compete on the biggest stage.
Jessie is only 17, but I think she will be one to watch and while you can’t expect a 16 or 17-year-old to deliver what a 30-year-old can, I think people will be impressed by what this girl can do.
Finally, should you come up against England in the tournament, how will you approach it and what do you think the strengths of Mark Sampson’s side are?
England has a very dynamic team. There’s pace all across their front players and defensively they are a solid unit. We came up against them recently in the Cyprus Cup and found it hard to break them down. We had something like 24 shots and crosses but couldn’t find the back of the net.
When you’ve got weapons like Karen Carney, Eniola Aluko and Lianne Sanderson – in fact you could go on and on with the players that he has got there – I think they are a team that could be a real dark horse.
Follow Rich on Twitter @RichJLaverty