In any other year, Colin Bell and Celia Sasic might well be spending FIFA Ballon d’Or night clutching trophies and posing for photographs. Both, after all, were vital to the 1. FFC Frankfurt side that won the 2015 UEFA Women’s Champions League in style: Bell as the team’s inspirational coach, Sasic as its record-breaking striker.
But this is not, of course, just any other year. Tomorrow’s Gala comes on the back of female football’s biggest event – the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ – and, because of that, the former Frankfurt boss will watch the event from home. And while Sasic will be in Zurich, having taken her prolific club form into Germany’s Canada 2015 campaign, Bell believes his former charge will fully expect to return home empty-handed.
“It would be a wonderful way to cap a fantastic career, and I’d love to see her win it,” he told FIFA.com, with Sasic one of three nominees for the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year award. “But I know Celia well and, as a down-to-earth, realistic person, I think she’ll see that it will be very hard to get past a player who won the World Cup and scored three goals in the final. I don’t know anyone who expects anything other than Carli Lloyd winning it.
“Celia can be very proud to be in that final three though and she couldn’t have done much more to stake a claim, having had such a superb season with us and then gone on to score as many goals as she did at the World Cup. But the kind of person she is, she’s always quick to recognise achievements from other people and I know she’ll be the first to congratulate Carli Lloyd if it goes as we expect.”
It’s just eight months since Bell and Sasic made history together, the former as the first English coach to win a Champions League and the latter by setting a competition record with her haul of 14 goals. Their careers had been intertwined for years beforehand, though, with Bell having developed the striker’s predatory talents at Bad Neuenahr before taking her to Frankfurt shortly after making the same switch.
Yet coach and player have moved in different directions since their European triumph in May, with the Leicester-born coach having left Frankfurt for a new challenge at Norwegian side Avaldsnes, and Sasic having quit the game altogether. And while both decisions raised eyebrows, it was the striker’s decision to retire at 27 - just as she was reaching new heights for club and country - that left the women’s game reeling.
“We were all sad at that decision, but we respected it,” reflected Bell. “Football was never the only thing in Celia’s life and she felt the time was right to expand her horizons. She’s always been a very focused individual who knows what she wants and, when she sets her mind on something, you know she’ll follow through on it with her heart and soul.
“I knew I could always rely on her to give 100 per cent, even when she wasn’t playing well. And of course she had that wonderful gift for putting the ball in the net, which is what football is all about. She definitely improved her game over the four years we worked together and I really admired how focused she was. We could argue with each other at times, but we were good for each other too and she relished the challenge which I laid down to her, which was to win trophies.”
It was that same motivation that propelled Bell to the greatest achievement of his coaching career, a feat that also earned him a spot on the initial list of ten nominees for the FIFA World Coach of the Year for Women’s Football award. And though unruffled by failing to make the final trio, the 54-year-old hopes that club coaches can become a regular presence on the podium in years to come.
He said: “I was really pleased to be nominated initially and I think that the final three are all extremely worthy candidates who had a great World Cup. I would have liked to have seen a club coach on there, of course, and I was very pleased for Ralf Kellermann getting the award last year as he’d been hugely unfortunate not to win in 2013, when he won all three trophies he was competing for. I do feel women’s football at club level must be able to compete for attention and recognition year in, year out, even when there’s a big tournament on. And these awards and nominations can help.
“People who’re winning trophies should certainly be in with a shout, and that’s why I think Jill Ellis will – and should – come out on top this year. Mark Sampson had a great tournament with England and Norio Sasaki has had a wonderful run with Japan, taking them to new heights. But football’s about winning things and Jill, having won the biggest prize of all in such great style, would be a thoroughly deserving winner.”