Pia Sundhage took the Brazil women’s national team job in July 2019
Swede hoping to add to her impressive Olympics medal haul with As Canarinhas
Sundhage: “We want to go for the gold”
It is quite difficult to offer Pia Sundhage a fresh experience. The two-time gold medal-winning coach, who played in the inaugural FIFA Women’s World Cup™, has enjoyed a long and storied career both on and off the pitch. But although that journey has taken her across her native Europe, to North America and Asia, she now she faces a totally new challenge, as coach of the Brazilian women’s national team.
The former USA and Sweden manager took over the As Canarinhas reins in July 2019 after their round of 16 exit to the hosts at France 2019, and she is certainly up for the challenge. Her outgoing personality is complemented by a sturdy pragmatism, which has perhaps been the missing piece in the jigsaw for Brazil in their quest for a major title. With a host of stars at her disposal, including veterans Marta and Formiga, Sundhage is looking to this year's Women’s Olympic Football Tournament for her own third gold medal, and the country’s first in women’s football.
FIFA.com sat down with the Swede to discuss the romanticism of Brazilian football, living in Rio, working with Marta, and her plans for Tokyo 2020.
FIFA.com: Talk us through taking the Brazil job – how did the opportunity come about?
Pia Sundhage: It was a phone call, and I just said yes. I didn’t even think about it. I’ve been in many countries, I’ve had such fantastic jobs and now I get another one. I do believe that this will be my biggest challenge because it’s a very different culture. A foreigner, and a woman, coming to Brazil - and I can tell that [the federation, CBF] want to do more for women’s football. So to be part of that kind of change, I’m the lucky one.
You’ve coached and played all over the world. From what you’ve seen so far, what challenges and opportunities does coaching in South America present?
There are two things. One is to find the most talented players. Brazil is a big country and we know there are so many good players – how do we find them? How do we identify them? If you’re a girl, you should be able to play.
The other thing when it comes to the national team, I really like that they play with so much emotion. But when the emotion is not that strong, you need a team to lean on. And that’s my job, to make sure that you shouldn’t be carried away when you have bad feelings inside you, questioning yourself, thinking that you can do it on your own, because it’s a team game, and it’s the team that will perform.
It’s a little bit of a balance for me. Football is emotion. It’s a lot of tactics, video clips here and there but at the end of the day, it’s the 89th minute and who will score the last goal?
You’re now living in Rio. What do you make of the Brazilian lifestyle?
I’m feeling that it’s warm, and that’s not just the weather! I bump into warm people. Everybody loves football, which is nice for me. They start a conversation even though I don’t speak Portuguese yet, but they really want to be part of the football.
I think that the people want the nation to be successful. Men and women, youth – that feeling is contagious. I have a good life. I think I’m at the right place at the right time.
It’s probably fair to say that, as a coach, you’re something of an Olympic ‘specialist’ – with two gold medals with USA and a silver with Sweden at Rio 2016. What is the aim for Tokyo 2020?
Of course we are all enthusiastic and want to go for the gold but at the end of the day it’s so much more. The journey makes the difference. The journey hopefully doesn’t stop after the Olympics, I hope it goes on for many years.
As a team: score some goals, don’t concede many goals and make sure that you do your very best. The personal aim is that I can be my very best in another culture with different players and, overall, that Brazil - a football country - will be successful.
The last Olympics were in Rio, and the women’s team missed out on a medal after . Is that being used as a motivating factor for 2020?
I remember when Brazil beat Sweden 5-1 (editor’s note: Sundhage was coaching Sweden at the time) and when I went out from that stadium, there were all the people around the Brazilian team and the bus. It was like a statement: ‘You did well, keep on going’. It moves people. The most important thing is to do your very best, that’s the only thing you can do. And do it together with others. So our job is to build this cohesive team.
Looking back, it was a great Olympics but there is room for improvement. That’s when this hard work and enthusiasm kicks in. We need each other. If we can put that all together, it will be a fantastic journey.
You’re well known for being an enthusiastic singer. Have you picked up any Brazilian tunes yet?
I’m trying to figure out how you count the rhythm in samba – that’s not easy! But I promised myself that one of these days I’m going to sing in Portuguese and with some sort of samba. It’s very different from rock and roll, so I need a couple more months in order to do that!