With tiny Trinidad and Tobago granted hosting rights for the upcoming 2010 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup, it suddenly became time for the sun-splashed dual island Caribbean nation to get serious about women’s football. And there are few with a more serious reputation for whipping female football teams into fighting shape than one Even Pellerud, the man who turned his native Norway into a world power in the 1990s and made a realistic contender out of Canada in the early years of this century.
Signing a four-year contract with the T&T FA in January and charged with the practical day-to-day running of the U-17 program, Pellerud – calm and goal-oriented by nature – was also named director of women’s football by his new employers. He is responsible for initiating, developing and implementing a women’s football program from scratch. It’s a tall order to be sure, but one of the Norwegian takes in stride and with a calm focus that has become his trademark.
“This job really isn’t that different from coaching Canada,” he told FIFA.com in downtown Port of Spain at the draw for the second U-17 women’s finals, which will run from 5 to 25 September. “In Canada I basically had to build the program from the ground up and before that, in Norway, the program was not that strong. It was just starting when I took over.”
Though the world-renowned manager admits there are special challenges associated with his new gig in T&T – a country that has never qualified for a FIFA women’s finals at any age category – the approach is the same. “Some of the girls here have only played football for a few years, so fitness becomes a priority and skill-building as well. Those areas were lacking when I arrived, but most of all discipline was needed and an understanding of what it takes to become a world-class footballer, athlete and team member.
“There are sacrifices to be made and hours to be put in, times when you have to work on your own and no one is watching you. This kind of hard work is crucial,” Added the former player, who led Norway’s senior women to a FIFA Women's World Cup™ title in 1995 and Canada to a shock fourth-place finish in 2003. “And I must admit, the girls have responded well to the challenge.”
The coach seems to have a genuine enthusiasm for his new job and - creditably considering his experience at the highest levels - a touching and cheerful affection for his new charges. Over the last several months, he has noted a marked improvement in his young side, especially in the outstanding Camille Borneo, likely to be named captain for the finals. With mixed results in recent friendlies against Jamaica, Mexico and three meetings with Korea Republic, Pellerud has taught his side some much-needed basics in what may well be the biggest challenge of his career.
“The infrastructure for women’s football was seriously lacking when I arrived here, so we had to begin simply. First you teach them to play, then you teach them to compete, and then you teach them to win. We are not the biggest in the world, or the most athletic, but we have good overall speed and that can help us,” the coach admitted. “I have the girls working in the gym to increase their strength, but we will need to play to our attributes as well.”
When it comes to how he would define success in September, the goal is simple: “When I was hired I was told that success would mean getting out of the group stages and into the knockout rounds. For teams like us, that have started from a fairly low level, that are not top teams, a draw is important. It doesn’t matter much to the really big teams, but this is a big moment for us and we will do our best,” added the 56-year-old, drawn into a tricky group alongside with powers Nigeria, holders Korea DPR and Chile.
Pellerud has been stymied in his preparations so far as nearly half of his team are based thousands of miles away in the USA or Canada. “For all of these recent games we have missed key players because of academic commitments. So the summer months will be very important, when we finally have all players available.”
Whether Pellerud’s simple lessons will have confidence, ability and team cohesion high enough to see his girls compete with the world’s best come early September is yet to be known, but if the boss’s track record is anything to go by it would be a bad idea to overlook the upstart hosts at these world finals. “I think things are becoming more orderly and more professional here, and we will see how far we get.”