Women's Euro 2013: What now for Hope Powell & England?

By Alistair MagowanBBC Sport in Linkoping, Sweden
England knocked out of Euro 2013

At least the England women's team can take some solace in the fact that, after their winless European Championship, they are not alone.

Losing to France, Spain and drawing with the worst team in the tournament, Russia, meant that Hope Powell's side recorded their worst European Championship performance since 2001. It was a far cry from four years ago when they reached the Euro 2009 final.

But now they have matched the England Under-21s this summer, who lost all three group games at their European Championship in Israel, and the England under-20s who could not register a victory at the Under-20 World Cup in Turkey.

And the latest embarrassment for the Football Association has left the women's game, like the men's, at a crossroads.

Following their there was a depressing familiarity to the performance, when England looked slow, struggled to maintain possession, and lacked the kind of attacking incisiveness that their opponents showed.

England arrived in Sweden on an unbeaten run of 11 games, so what went so drastically wrong?

According to Powell, "nervousness" was to blame in the first defeat by Spain, "sloppiness" the issue in the Russia draw and now a lack of quality was behind the loss to France, who England have not beaten since 1974 and looked justified in being tipped as tournament favourites.

Skipper Casey Stoney also rejected claims that media pressure resulted in England freezing on the big stage.

When England faced France at the 2011 World Cup quarter-finals it took Elise Bussaglia's 87th-minute equaliser to take the game to extra time and England only lost out on penalties. This time, though, the gulf in class looked massive.

And with Powell now being at the helm for 15 years, where she has also established and overseen the England youth teams, there is a sense that the senior side might have stagnated as other sides have progressed. Could England do with a new voice?

"Hope has done fantastically well creating the England age groups but other teams have gone to that next level and we have to find a way of getting to that next level," said former England under-21 international and Leeds forward Lucy Ward, who has been commentating for BBC Sport at Euro 2013.

"What there needs to be is something different, a different approach with the players, perhaps a different person whoever that might be, but there is something that isn't quite right.

"Something has to move on with the whole of English football development, it's not going as fast as other teams, they are going past us and getting further away from us."

Former England left-back Michael Gray went further. He said: "England were so far behind the other countries it was frightening."

Following the French defeat, Powell described her team's opponents and Spain as "surging" nations. It is perhaps no wonder that France looked so slick given that many of their players train full-time at club side Lyon compared to England's, who are semi-professional in the Women's Super League.

But Powell said her side were "not drastically" behind them. "In 15 years we have made enormous progress," she added.

That much is true. In that time, Powell has taken England from a team that failed to qualify for major tournaments to one that regularly does. She has helped establish an Elite Performance Unit, and created a pathway from regional centres of excellence via the newly-established Women's Super League to the England youth teams.

The senior side have reached the quarter-finals of the 2007 and 2011 World Cups as well as the same stage of the 2012 Olympics, albeit under the guise of Team GB. And in the last two-and-a-half years, England have beaten the world's number one side, the United States, and world champions Japan.

England are currently sixth in the world rankings, and fourth in Europe, but in being knocked out at the group stages at Euro 2013, Powell's side looked well short of that measure.

They were lacking the influence of their best player Kelly Smith, who was working her way back from injury, but there was a hesitancy to use some of the younger players like Toni Duggan, who came on late in the second half against Russia to earn an injury-time equaliser and Jordan Nobbs, who was not used at all. It was an issue that FA director of development Sir Trevor Brooking picked up on during the Russia match.

"Overall, I was disappointed, the things we normally do didn't happen such as keeping the ball," added Ward. "We looked as fit as other teams, but confidence-wise it drained from us after that first game."

Powell has made no secret of her desire to move into a director of football role for the women's game, which she largely does already. FA director of elite development Dan Ashworth said this week that the governing body would be creating a position soon so the manager's post could become vacant.

That leaves an ideal exit strategy for Powell, with Ashworth also saying that any future England manager might not necessarily have to be a woman.

Candidates could include England under-19 manager Mo Marley, who stepped down as Everton boss at the start of the season, while Canadian boss John Herdman, who hails from the north-east of England, has impressed during his time in charge by taking his side to a bronze medal at the London Olympics. Former Arsenal boss Laura Harvey knows plenty of the England players and might also be a contender. She now coaches in the United States with Seattle Reign.

Whatever happens in the next few months, no-one can take away what Powell has done in establishing England as a leading nation. Her fingerprints are all over a well-organised game.

But after the Euro 2013 disappointment, now might be the right time for a new guiding force, otherwise England could slip further behind their rivals.


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