Tom Sermanni officially takes over as the new coach of the United States Women’s National Team on January 1st. So for now, Sermanni is content to watch from the sideline as, interim coach Jill Ellis leads the team in the final two games of 2012, games nine and 10 of the Fan Tribute Tour.
That’s is where Gotsoccer caught up with the new man in charge, on the sideline, where we spoke one on one with the personable new supremo.
“I’ve just tried to stay anonymous, in the background, “Sermanni told us, “just seeing how things operate and seeing what happens.” “So,” he says, “that’s been very valuable for me.” Having watched, and coached against the world’s number one women’s team for years, Sermanni hasn’t been surprised by what he seen. “No, not really,” Sermanni says in his soft Scottish accent. “It’s just really kind of what I expected.” Sermanni explains that the team is, “very relaxed and happy off the field, and very focused on the field, very professional.” “It’s what I expected, “Sermanni notes, “ and I am very glad to see it.”
Sermanni made his reputation as a coach in the women’s game, building the Australian program from the ground up. The Matildas made it to the quarterfinals of Women’s World Cup in 2007 and 2011, and Sermanni has guided the Australian team to it’s highest ever FIFA World Ranking at number nine.
“Probably more professional, is the word I would use,” Sermanni says in describing the United States national team setup, in comparison to his old job. “That’s not the players,” he cautions to add, “but in relation to the organization., the structure behind it.” Another difference for Sermanni is, “the size of the game here. It’s bigger and has more parts to it, than there are in Australia.”
Sermanni expressed his confidence in that structure, and indicated an unusual lack of ego, when we asked about possible changes to the coaching staff. New brooms generally sweep clean, but Sermanni told us, “I hope to keep the the staff that are here. We’ve had some talks, and some suggestions,” Sermanni allows, “from people in the system, about bringing new people on board.” “But,” the new man says, “I want to disrupt as little as possible, a system and a staff that has been successful.”
Neither is Sermanni inclined to change an awful lot about how the Olympic Champions play the game. When asked if he is a system coach, the word is barely out of the interviewers mouth, when Sermanni blurts out an emphatic, “no.” “I’ve never been a coach,” he points out, “that’s tried to fit players into a system. One of the ways that I like to coach,” Sermanni explains, “ is to make players flexible enough, that they can play well, regardless of the system.”
“It’s more about teaching players to be able to play, and then be able to fit them in, to fit a system around those players.” One thing Sermanni is keen to do is to expand the player pool. “I’ve had some discussions with people who have contacted me about some of the players, the fringe players, that they think have got potential.”
“These are players,” Sermanni concedes, “that I haven’t had a chance to see yet.” Sermanni stressed that, “one of the things that I would like to do here, is to continue to create stronger competition within the squad.” “To do that,” the coach added, “we need to look at some players from outside the squad at the moment, and I’ll be taking advice from coaches and people that I trust, that work in the system here.”
Sermanni will have to wait until March, when the Algarve Cup is played in Portugal, to take charge of his new team in an official tournament, although he is hopeful that some friendlies can be put in place before then. This spring is also meant to see the the debut of a new women’s professional league in the United States, and it is no surprise that Sermanni is all for it.
“I think it is important for the game. Having a national league is important on a variety of levels,” says Sermanni. “Obviously, for the national team players to continue to play week in and week out, at home, is a very good thing,” he reasons. “For aspiring national team players,” Sermanni believes, “to get to play against those players (the national team players), in a competitive environment is important.” A professional league will, “give the game a domestic profile over a larger period of time, because,” Sermanni notes, “national teams can’t play week in and week out at home.”
Finally Sermanni concludes that, “to continue to develop players, I think a national league is an important step.”
A competitive women’s league in this country would also allow the top American players to keep sharp for the international game without having to play overseas, during the considerable down time between women’s international tournaments. With the Women’s World Cup and the Olympics held in back to back years, “it is frustrating,” Sermanni admits.
“It’s interesting, we’ve talked about that a lot in Australia,” the coach says. “The ideal would be to have them two years apart, but unfortunately,” says Sermanni, “that’s unrealistic.” “I suppose you could have a Concacaf tournament one year, and the World Cup Qualifiers, the next year, and then the World Cup and the Olympics,” Sermanni says.
A lack of depth in the women’s game in some confederations has held that back up until now, but it seems a matter of time before what Sermanni proposes is implemented. Such a schedule would provide, “continuity, where you have one major tournament a year,” and Sermanni feels, “that would be step forward.”
Lastly Sermanni, who started out coaching men’s teams, spoke about leaving the Matildas, and the differences and similarities in coaching men and women. “Leaving Australia, in a professional sense, was not really difficult, “Sermanni told Gotsoccer, “because this is the job that you can’t turn down.”
“But,” he said, “when you’re coaching a female team, there is much closer attachment between the players and the staff than there is in the male game.” Sermanni went on to say, “that I have the exact same expectations of a female team going out on the football field,” here Sermanni caught himself, “soccer field, as I do a male team.” “The management of how you have to handle players, particularly in areas of communication, can be very different,” admits the coach.
Asked to give an example, Sermanni says with a small laugh, “female players will actually listen and absorb what you say.” Female players will in fact, “bring it up again a year later.” “They might say,” Sermanni recounts, “ when you spoke to me last year you said, x, y and z.” “Of course like most males,” Sermanni jokes, “you’ve forgotten what you said 10 minutes ago.”
Sermanni has found, “that you have to be more instinctual around female players. You have to think out the information much better for female players.” “Male players,” Sermanni says, “just want to know if they are playing at the weekend or not.” Although Sermanni admits that this is a generalization, he does consider, “that the main difference in management.”
But says Sermanni, “these days both sets of players, male and female, are professional in what they do. The amount of training they do is the same,” he says, “the dedication to the game is the same, and the expectations that you have of them are exactly the same.”
The expectations on Sermanni will be the same too. The same as they were for Pia Sundhage, who won two Olympic Gold Medals, and the same as they were for Tony DiCicco and April Heinrichs, who each led the U.S. to gold. They may even be a little bit higher, since the USWNT haven’t won the Women’s World Cup since 1999.
So, not too much pressure then. How will Sermanni handle the expectations and the pressure that come with the biggest job in the world of women’s soccer? He seemed a cool customer last night on the sideline at BBVA Compass Stadium. Starting January 1st, we’ll begin to find out, as Tom Sermanni steps figuratively at least, off of the sidelines, and into the the spotlight.