Following a long and successful playing career featuring 71 goals in 146 appearances for Sweden, Pia Sundhage moved into coaching at the helm of KIF Örebro in the Damallsvenskan, the Swedish women's top flight. FIFA.com took advantage of a break in her busy schedule for an in-depth interview.
FIFA.com: Pia Sundhage, it's been a roller-coaster ride with KIF Örebro this season. Why?
Pia Sundhage: We have a very young team. It's a long way to the top, but I'm pleased with the progress we've made. The ups and downs will probably continue for a couple of years, but by then our best players will be 26 or 27 and that'll give us a solid foundation. It's more important to improve technically than to win a certain number of matches. It would be a huge boost if one of the players made the national team. Obviously we'll be aiming to do better and better every season.
Before the season, you signed three well-known American players - Mary Frances Monroe, Kate Markgraf and Kristine Lilly. Why did they leave the club so soon after arriving?
Their contracts were only for two months with an option to extend. They enjoyed their time with us and said it was a great experience, but they decided to return to the USA for personal reasons. They also felt they needed to be closer to home at a time when USA coach Greg Ryanis busy rebuilding the national team. They're all aiming for regular places.
How pleased were you with their performance?
All three were impressive and influenced our attacking and defensive play. We learnt a lot from them. And they provoked considerable public interest. After they joined us, the local press showed much more interest in the team. Our popularity has increased dramatically. We drew a crowd of more than 5,000 for the recent game against Umeå.
How does Umeå compare to your team?
The major difference is that ten professionals play for Umeå. Most, like their best player, Marta, are internationals. Their coach is full-time, as I am, but I have no internationals in the squad. Joanne Peters from Australia is our only professional. My players are either still at school, studying or working. That will all change over the next few years.
Would you describe the Swedish women's league as the best in the world? How important are players like Marta?
For me, Marta is the best player in the world. It is always a challenge to play with or against her. She's bringing the game on tremendously. It's difficult to say if we have the best league in the world, but it's definitely up there with the best, as we have players from Brazil, Finland, Germany, Iceland and elsewhere. This cultural mix is important for the future of the game. However, at the moment we have the same problem as in Germany, as we have just two or three strong teams who are streets ahead of the rest. This will improve in the next five years. We expect to have five or six very strong teams.
Sweden only managed a draw in the first World Cup qualifier against Iceland. Did they underestimate the opposition?
I don't think so. We have a new coach, Thomas Dennerby, who is introducing new ideas. It was an interesting game against Iceland, although obviously the result wasn't ideal. A draw against Iceland isn't the end of the world. They have a very good team. Following the 2003 World Cup and the slightly disappointing 2005 European Championship, we've been trying to analyse our game. I think we can all expect a new attacking style from the Swedish team, which could be very successful at the World Cup and Olympic Games.
Can you tell us about changes in women's football since you stopped playing?
A lot has changed. The game is much faster and the defensive aspect of the game has improved considerably, although less has changed in terms of technique. The major difference is media interest. The press has discovered that people enjoy women's football. If I compare the 1995 World Cup and 1996 Olympic Games with the 2003 World Cup, there is a huge difference in public awareness. That's good for the sport, because it attracts more money to women's football.
What is your philosophy as a coach?
There are four aspects to my philosophy: First, enjoy the game and the moment. That's the most important. Second, you need to set targets, and be aware of what you have to do to achieve them. Thirdly, a certain amount of self-confidence is essential. Fourthly, communication is very important. My biggest problem at the moment is that our players are not professional. There is always the question of how much the players can take after working all day at their other jobs.
How important was your experience of coaching the Boston Breakers in the U.S. professional league, WUSA?
I picked up a huge amount. I worked alongside Maren Meinert, Kristin Lilly and Kelly Smith. You can learn a lot from players like this. There were so many players from different cultures, all with a common goal, to win the next game. I loved it. Those were fantastic times in the WUSA. I hope that professional women's football will return in the USA or in other countries.
A few months ago, you were being discussed as a possible USA national coach, but Greg Ryan got the job. Were you disappointed?
Not really. They were looking for a team manager and I prefer to spend as much time as possible on the training ground. I'm not so good at the administrative side of things. But I was flattered to be invited for an interview. There was a good atmosphere and I learned a lot from the experience. Maybe I'll get another shot at it in the future.
Could you imagine coaching one of the up-and-coming national teams?
Definitely. I'll go wherever there's football. Location is less important than influencing the game and the players. I'm happiest at the football ground. It doesn't matter where it is. The main thing is that I have contented players around me.
How do you see the future of women's football?
I think we're only just getting started. More and more people will discover women's football and find that it's fun and interesting to watch.