- In July 2020, Irene Fuhrmann was named coach of the Austrian women’s team
- She is the only woman in Austria with a UEFA Pro Licence
- Fuhrmann made her debut at the helm in the EURO qualifier versus Kazakhstan
After nine years coaching the Austrian women’s team, from 2011 to 2020, Dominik Thalhammer recently handed over the reins to Irene Fuhrmann – the first time that a woman has held this post.
It came as quite an honour to the 40-year-old, who had already represented her country as a player, before going on to become assistant coach first under Ernst Weber (2008-2011), then under Thalhammer.
"For me personally, it’s an incredible privilege to be able to do this job, and I’d like to hope that any of my male colleagues who might get to occupy this position in the future would also see it in just the same way,” said Fuhrmann in an interview with FIFA.com. “For me it makes no difference whether the coach is a woman or a man. And it’s certainly the highlight of my coaching career to date."
"I’ve been able to work full-time as a coach in Austria since 2011, which is unusual in the context of Austrian women’s football. But I’ve always stuck to my path. For me personally, this new task was a big step up – and in my eyes it was the right move."
Those who hired her would seem to agree, having chosen to tap into the knowledge that she had acquired as a player on the international stage and also as the only woman in Austria to have the UEFA Pro Licence. Fuhrmann has played an active role in the development of the women’s side of the sport for a number of years and has been part of the growth that it has enjoyed in the country.
"The opening of our OFB Women’s Academy 2011 was certainly quite a moment," she explained. “Until then there hadn’t been any consistent way of bringing through the top women’s talents. The implementation of the academy completed the talent pyramid.”
"We’ve seen since then that our national youth teams have continued to get closer and closer to the top. The U-17s and U-19s have qualified three times for the European Championships. The greatest success was definitely in 2017 with the maiden appearance of the women’s team in the final phase of a EURO, and their subsequent result there.
"The success could not have come about without the OFB Women’s Academy being in place and all the work that Dominik Thalhammer put in. Dominik made sure that we had the right structures and continued to drive development forward. He was a leading figure behind all this success, and I was lucky enough to work with him."
What needs to change? If I look in particular at the Women’s Bundesliga that we have in Austria, no coaches or assistants work there full-time. Steps need to be taken to make it more of a professional set-up to give more people the opportunity to work in it full-time.
The Vienna-born coach now needs to follow in her predecessor’s illustrious footsteps. "The team has a great deal of flexibility when it comes to tactics and I see no reason why anything big needs to change. The fact that I got the job was also a sign that we should continue on the same track to a certain extent – but with my own imprint on things," said Fuhrmann, for whom Thalhammer’s footballing approach and methods have had a significant effect in her development as a coach.
This was apparent right from Fuhrmann’s very first match in charge, in qualifying for the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022. Austria saw off Kazakhstan 5-0, cementing top spot in Group G and maintaining their run of clean sheets.
"The team put in an incredibly mature performance. What was unusual for us was that we had a lot of players unavailable. We had two debutants in the starting XI and we’re only a small footballing nation. In years past, there’s no way we would have been in a position to dominate that kind of opponent the way we did. So from that point of view, it was an extremely positive performance,” she said, before adding with a smile: "If someone had told me before the match that we’d go there and come away with a 5-0 win, I’d have snatched their hand off! Looking back on it now though, you have to admit that the scoreline by no means flattered us."
In the battle for a direct qualification spot, Austria next have to take on no less a team than France, currently third in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking. This will be the seventh time that the teams have faced one another, and the statistics certainly favour Les Bleues, who rattled off five wins in a row before being held to a 1-1 draw by the Austrians the last time the two met, on 22 July 2017.
"We can go into this match with basically nothing to lose,” Fuhrmann explains. “We’re unfortunately without a lot of key players at the moment who had established themselves in the squad but are currently suffering from long-term injuries. France haven’t really been pushed as yet in this qualifying campaign, so it’s up to us to stay in the match as long as we can and to try to knock them off their game. The advantage for us is that France are expected to win, and anything else will feel like a defeat for them. We obviously want to get something out of the tie but the pressure isn’t on us. That’s the approach to the game that I want us to have.”
"Obviously expectations back in Austria are higher now but we need to stay realistic. France simply have greater quality and quantity than we do, but despite that, I’m convinced that on a good day, we can get something out of this match, and we’ll be doing our utmost to make sure that it’s a good day."