Why is the Football Association so afraid of women?
- Credit: PA
So the FA have chosen a man to manage the England women's team. What kind of a message does this send out, asks Rachel Moore?
Driving into work last week. I listened to an interview with England's national netball team coach Tracey Neville. Articulate, inspiring and driven, she oozed leadership and measured ambition.
Within days, Tracey's brother, Phil, was announced as the new head coach of the Lionesses, England women's football team, Europe's number one team and ranked third in the world.
A man had been chosen to take the mighty Lionesses to their next level.
A man with no experience of football management and no experience of women's football had been given the job of leading a team of outstanding talent and winning potential.
A man, we're told, who didn't even apply for the job but had been pursued after his name was brought up over Christmas drinks by a TV commentator.
The story tells itself – the first tournament the former Manchester United player Neville, one of the Class of '92 with David Beckham and Ryan Giggs, will lead the women into is the SheBelieves tournament in March. SheBelieves, not HeBelieves.
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Every job should go to the best candidate. Can we really believe there were simply no women coaches good enough to lead our women's team to glory?
Or did the Football Association (FA) play safe and go for a man because, deep down, the assumption is that a role with such high profile and responsibility, with a lot of direction and telling people what to do, is naturally a man's role?
What message does this give to young women and girls in the game, who, for the first time in footballing history, are being taken seriously? Or so we thought.
How wonderful would it have been to have our female team fly off to the World Cup next year as one of the favourites led by a female head coach? Instead, there will be a man in a football manager's coat yelling at them what to do from dugouts.
The FA, it's been suggested, chose Neville because of his name, motivated by great potential PR to boost the profile of the team by putting an on-pitch 'legend' who had grown up under Sir Alex Ferguson. He had grown up with a 'winning mentality.'
No one can dispute Neville's playing pedigree, but working for someone doesn't automatically mean create another great leader. He has coached at Manchester United, Valencia and England Under-21s, but only managed one game, at Salford City, a team he co-owns with his brother, Gary.
Without a proven track record to judge, any employer is taking a massive risk. Being great on the pitch or in any workforce doesn't necessarily translate to being able to bring out the best in others.
It scares me to say it, but perhaps the FA believed putting a man in charge would make people take women's football more seriously.
But let's not be personal about Neville. He's getting enough stick on Twitter and by pundits for his lack of experience – and hanging himself with his own petard for sexist tweets, including the following:
'When I said morning men I thought women would of (sic) been busy preparing breakfast/getting kids ready/making beds – sorry morning women!'
But my beef is more about the message that men are still automatically assumed to be the better candidates, 'safe' appointments, and the natural choice to take charge. This feels even more acute when a man is chosen to be in charge in a woman's world.
In English national football, the men's team finds it hard to hold a candle to the women's team, but still it will still dominated by men who will make all the decisions. What are the FA scared of?
It appears that nurturing and growing great women coaches hasn't been at the top of the FA's agenda in the last decade as the might of our women's team has grown.
Baroness Sue Campbell, head of women's football, acknowledged the issue of a lack of female applicants for the position. The FA hadn't gone out and proactively tried to address the big issue of growing their next managers, which is sadly illustrative of the 'men are natural leaders' attitude.
It was doing so now though, she said. Too little too late, Baroness. Shame on you for not insisting on a clear succession plan for that top job and nurturing more potential female managers.
Only three of women's Super League 1 clubs are managed by women.
So our national team, for once favourites to lift a World Cup, will be led into the campaign by a man, a man in his first job in management and first job in women's football.
Can you imagine the outcry for such an appointment for the men's team? Can you imagine a woman ever being chosen for to lead a Premiership team, or any male football team?
I'd love to believe it would happen in my lifetime, but that's far too fanciful. The 'game' – ie men - simply wouldn't countenance such a punt.
But it's OK for the women's team because, I hate to believe they do think like this, but it's 'just the women?'
What's been called a PR masterstroke by the FA could so easily turn into a spectacular own goal with our magnificent Lionesses led to what should be their finest moment by a tame tabby cat.