Following on from my Woman’s Super League preview over on Anfield Index, I have been lucky enough to speak to England woman’s football manager, Mark Sampson.
Ahead of England’s upcoming World Cup Qualifying double header against Belarus and Ukraine, Mark has been kind enough to answer some of my questions.
For those of you who don’t know. Mark replaced Hope Powell after England Ladies’ poor performance in the 2013 European Championships.
Having first cut his teeth at Swansea City’s youth academy, under then manager Roberto Martinez, he then moved over to Bristol Academy and took over their youth programme.
From there he went on to take over the full woman’s side and what followed was arguably Bristol Academy’s most successful period.
They reached the FA Cup Final in 2011 and 2013, unfortunately losing on both occasions, qualified for the Woman’s Champions League and last season pushed eventual winners Liverpool Ladies all the way to the wire.
It was only defeat to Liverpool on the last day of the season that saw them miss out on the WSL Title.
Here’s what Mark had to say…
So what made you decide to go into Women’s football Mark?
At the time it was an excellent opportunity at Bristol Academy to take responsibility for their youth programmes.
It was a new challenge and an opportunity where I felt I could really effect positive change within the set up, while also continuing to develop my own methodology. I also felt an instant connection with the people at the club, so moving forward they were people I felt I could work well with, which I believe is very important.
How much of an influence on your management style was Roberto Martinez? Also, who else has influenced you to date?
I have been very fortunate and still am to have worked with many mentors throughout my career. Every one I have learnt a lot from and am still in contact with many ex-work colleagues, should I ever need a chat or some advice on a specific situation.
However, I do believe it is important to be yourself and though I have had many influences on my career, I am very strong with my own philosophy.
Although you were successful as Bristol Academy Manager, you didn’t manage to win a trophy, is that something you regret about your time there?
No I never have regrets, the only question I asked myself was did I do everything I possibly could to try and win trophies and the answer is yes. Although we all want to win trophies, I don’t believe it is a fair reflection on a club or a group of players to judge them purely on that fact. The question I asked my self at the end of every season was did we “add value”.
With the resources we had did we exceed or fall short of expectations and in every season at Bristol I felt the team exceeded expectations which is a huge credit to the players and everyone involved in the club. What makes me very proud of my time at Bristol is the improvement in the players who were with the team from season one.
The likes of Grace McCatty, Loren Dykes, Jas Matthews, Alex Windell, Ellie Curson were at the club from the first day I walked through the door and to see them develop into either age group or senior internationals, as well as more than holding there own in the FAWSL, is a real credit to them and the method of working.
As a Welshman, how easy was it for you to accept the England manager’s job?
To be honest it never crossed my mind, the role was a fantastic opportunity to work with some fantastic players within a huge organisation. It was a challenge I was and am incredibly excited by. Leaving Bristol was very tough, though. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the club, we achieved something special and I believed strongly we had everything in place to grow the club even further, which meant it was very hard to leave.
As a relatively young man still, was it in your plan to be an international manager at this stage of your career?
In football it is very difficult to have a plan. I believe it is more about opportunity and the ability to recover from set backs. Though I have enjoyed opportunities I have also suffered many set backs and how I have come back from those set backs I believe has helped define me as a coach and as a person.
What are your short term and long term goals as England manager?
Throughout my career I haven’t really been big on goals other than helping my team not concede or score some!
For me its about short team focus and committing to being better at the end of the day than you were at the start. Especially now at international level, the margins are so small to focus on anything other than improving every single day would be naïve.
My objective is to create a team ethic where the players work hard every day to improve and become the best they can be, add that to the talent we have in the group then anything is possible.
Do you see a time in your future when you are manager of the Welsh Ladies national side?
In football you can never say never or rule anything out. I am a loyal person and have shown that throughout my career.
At the moment I have a fantastic role with a great football nation and hope I can work well enough to stay in this position for many, many years to come.
As difficult as it is for you to say, who do you expect to win the league this season? Are there any players in the league you would recommend we keep our eye on?
I don’t think it is just difficult for me, I think anyone would find it difficult to pick a winner in the FAWSL this season as the competition is so fierce. What history tells us is to win the FAWSL you cannot afford to drop many points, last season Liverpool only dropped six points. But I do feel this season more teams will be involved in the race for the title so maybe the points total will be lower, which means naturally there will be a small gap between top and bottom. In terms of players there are many top players now gracing our league, however, I am very excited to see some of our young players this season.
We have an U20 World Cup in the summer and already the likes of Nikita Parris, Gabby George, Leah Williamson, Jess Carter have shown we have some exciting young English talent starting to break through.
If you could coach any player, male or female who would it be?
That is a difficult question there are so many top players in the modern game! If a player has talent, is willing to work hard and is open to learning then I would enjoy working with them.
Do you think that a manager from the WSL or any international woman’s team could go straight into coaching a men’s side and if so, why hasn’t this happened yet?
Certainly if they are good enough then why not. I don’t know why is hasn’t happened yet maybe it is a lack of opportunity.
But there are some brilliant coaches working in the FAWSL who I am certain would do a very good job in any football environment if given the opportunity.
And finally what would be your perfect evening?
Any time I get to spend with my family is perfect so would be doing anything with them.