It was two and a half years ago when coach Marta Tejedor left her native Spain and set up home nearly 9,000 kilometres away in Chile. The South Americans were about to host the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2008 and needed an experienced hand not just to take the team into the tournament but to develop a structure for the women’s game there virtually from scratch. It was a challenge the intrepid Tejedor could not refuse.
“The project ties in perfectly with my beliefs and interests and I love the idea of helping women’s football to grow and evolve in a country that is doing so much to promote it,” she tells FIFA.com. “I’m also very passionate about football and I love to compete. There are so many things about this project that appeal to me.”
Tejedor’s new charges did not enjoy much luck on home soil against the world’s best, losing all three of their games in the finals. Even so, they still managed to do a nation proud. “I think the biggest impact the tournament made was at a social level,” explains Tejedor, who holds a degree in Physical Education and obtained her official coaching badge in Spain in 2000, achieving top marks in her year.
“Women’s football is widely accepted today and is an integral part of most clubs, schools, universities and other sporting institutions. Lots of women have taken up the game and the whole process of them coming into football has been accepted as something completely normal, with no barriers being put up or prejudices being shown.”
The Chile coach is well aware that her adopted country is only at the beginning of a long process that will not bear fruit for some time yet. With more and more resources at her disposal, however, she is working hard to bring about real and lasting changes.
With no competitive matches to prepare for in 2009, Tejedor and her colleagues focused their attentions instead on forming the core of the sides that will represent the country in the year ahead, travelling from one end of the country in search of the best players. “The challenge for 2010 is for one of the teams to qualify for a World Cup,” she says.
Significant progress has been made in Chilean women’s football over the last two years, as a delighted Tejedor explains. “At club level the women’s first division has consolidated itself, with more and more teams taking part at different age groups. Everton also competed in the Copa Libertadores and finished fourth overall, and the Chilean Cup has just come into existence, with teams from all over the country taking part.”
Understandably, there is still room for improvement. “We need to bring more young players through,” she reveals. “There still aren’t many opportunities for young girls in Chile and if we’re going to get into the elite then we need to start working with players from the age of eight or nine.”
So how can that development be achieved? Tejedor believes she knows the answer. “We have to make society see women’s football as something perfectly normal, which would automatically lead to women taking up the game in numbers. We also need to get the clubs involved and keep on improving resources.”
Some of Chile’s brightest hopes have already attracted attention from the leading powers in the women’s game. Valentina Lefort and Maria Jose Rojas have been given scholarships by a university in California, where they are currently studying, and Yessenia Lopez will be moving next year from Everton to Santos of Brazil.
The talent is there
Encouragingly, the rising standard of the domestic league has also attracted foreign players, much to the national coach’s satisfaction. “It’s very interesting to see that players from other South American countries are coming to the Chilean league, which makes it more attractive and improves the quality of the game here.”
2009 was an important year for women’s football in Latin America, with the staging of first women’s Copa Libertadores, a landmark for the sport in this part of the world. “It’s a real source of motivation for the national leagues here and it provides an excellent opportunity to assess the level of development across the continent,” comments Tejedor. “In my view there are six countries who have come on a lot and are leading the way at this moment in time: Brazil, who are way ahead of the rest, Colombia, Paraguay, Chile, Argentina and Ecuador. Some of these countries have very young players, and that shows they have a lot of potential for the future.”
Though content at what she has achieved so far, the Spaniard still has some very lofty ambitions to fulfil. “My dream is to take the full national team to the London Olympics in 2012. Sporting achievements aside, however, I’m happy at just being able to offer as much as I can to a cause that I identify with totally and utterly: the development of women’s football in Chile.”