- Coach of Spain's U-17 side is a nominee for #TheBest
- Daughter Paula, a goalkeeper in her squad, makes the case for her candidacy
- All you need to know about The Best FIFA Football Awards™
"Tona Is is the first woman to coach a Spanish national team and the first to win a European Championship-World Cup double in the same year. She also delivered the first world title in the history of Spanish women's football.”
So says Paula Suarez, one of the goalkeepers in Is's squad and a member of the victorious Rojita side that she led to glory at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Uruguay 2018.
That list of achievements underline what has been an extraordinary year for The Best FIFA Women's Coach 2019 nominee. "As well as that, there the way she approaches games and manages to get the maximum from us players," adds Suarez.
"Add to that how she is away from the pitch. She’s much more than a coach – she’s a huge support and someone very important to the players."
Tona is, of course, not only Paula’s coach but also her mother. "I'm very proud," she says at last. "It's amazing that she's among the top 10 coaches in the world, up there with those other coaches we all look at and admire. I'm delighted for her and I hope she makes it onto the three-person shortlist."
The initial announcement of The Best candidates caught both mother and daughter by surprise. Paula was sleeping, while Tona was out shopping, having left her mobile at home. "She woke me when she got back and immediately came to ask me if it was true. I told her: 'Yes, yes. It's listed on the official FIFA website.' We started crying and hugging there in the living room."
Ironically, it is the same room where Tona has often used Paula and her husband as guinea pigs for her coaching methods and theories. "She spends endless hours there with her computer and papers or watching games. She’s a real hard worker. She runs the drills by us and we tell her if something isn’t clear. At home, football’s constantly being discussed. My father doesn't have the same passion for it, but he puts up with it. He tolerates us," she laughs.
Today Paula is no longer in that room but 6,000 km away. The keeper accepted a scholarship from North Carolina's Gardner Webb University, where she will play with the Runnin' Bulldogs in the NCAA (university first division).
Passion for football and memories
"My love of football began in the schoolyard, playing with my friends. One day I came home and asked my mother to sign me up. From the off, I wanted to be a goalkeeper, but an ‘outfield keeper’ as I also wanted to score goals," laughs the player, who kept goal for Oviedo Moderno and Sporting before embarking on her American adventure.
"I never saw my mother play 11-a-side, just indoor football from time to time. Most of what I know about her career has come from what people have told me: that she started out as a forward but ended up as a centre-back. She stood out for her ability to take the ball out of defence and her aerial game.
"Now she is my harshest critic, no question. She always expects more from me than the others, because she knows there's always going to be someone who thinks I’m in the squad because of who I am. She wants me to prove I'm there on merit," says Paula.
"Of course, that [giving me preferential treatment] would be ridiculous because she’d only be making things harder for herself. More than anyone, she wants to have the best players at her disposal to help achieve her goals," the player adds.
And it was on merit that Paula went to the U-17 World Cup in 2018, where she was understudy to first-choice keeper Cata Coll. "The experience was amazing; it’s hard to put it into words. You just have to experience it," she says of their victory in the final.
Being someone’s player and daughter is not always easy to combine, even though Paula separates the two facets very well. "I’ve never revealed anything said at home in the dressing room, or vice versa. And I never will," she says categorically.
"It's a complicated situation. Sometimes our being related creates little difficulties - for example, if there are team-mates who don't want to comment on something in front of me. But to me, it's clear, when we gather as a team, she's my coach, nothing more."
Where Paula makes no distinction, however, in is giving Tona her complete endorsement for The Best Award – both for best coach and best mother.