Colin Bell the first full-time coach of Republic of Ireland’s women’s side
Englishman made name in Germany, conquering Europe with FFC Frankfurt
Irish will face Norway and the Netherlands in Women’s World Cup qualifying
Republic of Ireland had never reached a major tournament when, in 1985, they made a bold appointment. England legend Jack Charlton was the team’s first foreign manager, and his arrival signified a realisation that big changes were needed.
The move, needless to say, paid dividends. The Irish duly qualified for the next UEFA European Championship, then for the next FIFA World Cup™, enjoying memorable adventures that set a standard and took football to new levels of national popularity.
Thirty-two years on, the Republic’s women’s side have taken a similarly significant and ambitious step. Again, it has been to appoint an Englishman, with Colin Bell becoming the team’s first full-time coach.
But though Bell is English by birth, it is in Germany – where he moved in 1982 and forged his career and reputation – that his football identity and beliefs were established. As such, and with Germany’s men world champions and their women clutching Olympic gold medals, he feels there is plenty from his adopted nation that add to his new team’s existing attributes.
As he told FIFA.com: “Ireland is a sporty nation and the other sports that are most popular here tend to rely greatly on toughness and physical strength. I see that with our girls - there’s a real willingness to get stuck in, to put their heads where it hurts, and that’s a great mentality to have. I love that passion.
“But I also want to bring in the German mentality that I’ve learned, and which has benefited me a lot in my career. That mentality is to always be well organised, mentally very strong in stress situations and ruthless in the big moments.
“In men and women’s football, you see the Germans are always there or thereabouts when it comes to handing out trophies. And that’s because they know that passion alone won’t win you tournaments - and nor will technical ability alone. All the ingredients have to be there.”
Areas for improvement Bell knows how to find the recipe for success, having led FFC Frankfurt to the UEFA Women’s Champions League title as recently as 2015. And while Republic of Ireland’s record to date suggests he may need to lower his sights, the 55-year-old insists that he wants to compete with the big guns for a place at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup™.
“We want to be competitive and go out with the mindset that we can beat every team we play,” he said. “I don’t want to make big promises, but I’ve also never been the kind of coach who says, ‘Oh, I need ten years to do something’. I want to make an impact right away and to be successful right away.”
That, of course, will be easier said than done in a France 2019 qualifying section that includes the EURO-bound duo of Norway and the Netherlands, not to mention neighbours Northern Ireland. But Bell feels that, having seen encouraging signs from his side at the recent Cyprus Cup, he knows what is needed.
“First and foremost, we must be compact and difficult to play against,” he said. “That has to be basis in this initial phase – to make sure our defensive work, and shape without the ball, is really good.
“In time, I want to play an attractive brand of football – the kind of football people know me for from my time at Frankfurt. And we do have good technical players coming through. I’ve been working with the youth teams and there’s some really exciting talent there.
“But laying foundations is our priority. We also have to be adaptable, and fitness is another big thing. The girls know they’re going to need to get fitter than ever before if they want to compete at a high level. And that is where we want to take them."
“It’s a challenge that excites me, and I had no hesitation in taking this job on. I could see immediately that the FAI were serious about moving things forward and had some great discussions about high performance and their intentions to develop the women’s game from grassroots up. It was all very impressive and I’m very confident that, together, we can make real progress.”