There are very few people as entitled to analyse the similarities and differences between men’s and women’s football as Carolina Morace.
Following a 19-year playing career, during which she became widely recognised as the greatest Italian woman in history, in 1997 she began a coaching career that included a short but pioneering stint at the helm of a men’s club, Serie C1’s Viterbese in 1999.
Since then, Morace has made a name for herself as one of the top coaches in women’s football and a TV commentator - for both men’s and women’s football. She has also become the first Italian woman to be inducted into her country's footballing Hall of Fame. And all that while working as lawyer in her spare time!
The indefatigable Morace’s latest venture is as a FIFA Development instructor, having just conducted a course last week, between 14 and 18 October, at the Iranian Football Academy in Tehran. There she trained 30 Iranian women on the technical aspects of coaching women’s football. Not just football, but specifically women’s football.
“Whoever says that the men’s game and the women’s game are the same has clearly never worked in a professional environment,” she told FIFA.com. “As much as women’s football has grown over the last few decades, it hasn’t become any more similar to the men’s game. Women are physically different to men, and the more the women’s game develops, the more it is full of specificities that require a different approach from a coach - just like, say, in volleyball or basketball. There’s no point in grouping it all under the same category.”
The obvious physical differences are only the starting point. The former striker also points to key tactical differences and training methods. “Take a very simple example: the ‘piggy-in-the-middle’ drills,” she continued. “You remove that from a men’s training session and you’re lost. Whereas, generally speaking, female players don’t tend to care about this kind of competitiveness in a warm-up.”
Morace hopes that development initiatives like the Women’s Football Coaching Course in Tehran, which was attended by women only, will help to narrow the gap between the opportunities afforded to male and female coaches.
“Of course you have great coaches that understand the women’s game, like Antonio Cabrini in Italy or Philippe Bergeroo in France,” said Morace. “But what strikes me is when some teams or clubs choose head coaches not based on a résumé or experience, but only because they happen to be men. As I said before, the game is different and that’s clear to everyone. But the opportunities afforded to coaches shouldn’t be different.”
*Opportunities for all *
The gospel that Morace is preaching is particularly valuable in the Middle East, where lately women’s football has made dramatic strides. Iran, for example, fields women’s national teams from all categories starting at U-13, and its national league features 12 teams in the first division and another five in the second division; not to mention a total 105 futsal teams, spread across four different league divisions.
“At first glance, it’s easy for Westerns to tend to think that this is a completely different culture, but honestly, as an Italian, what struck me the most were the similarities," said Morace. "People are warm and approachable, and there’s no place where that is as clear as in football. What is evident to me in Tehran is a gigantic passion for football; a level of interest that’s truly outstanding. Specifically among the women, though, it’s clear that this passion carries a potential which is only now being untapped. Hopefully this course is an important step towards this."
Mahdie Mohammadkhani, a member of the Iranian FA's Women’s Committee, fully agrees with the former Italy and Canada coach.
“Women’s football has flourished in recent years, and nowadays it’s the most popular sport among Iranian women,” she said. "It’s also one of the favourite sports for Muslim women because they are allowed to play while wearing a headscarf.”
Mohammadkhani also believes that combination of development courses and elite competitions like next year’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World in Jordan – the first women’s World Cup held in the Middle East – are the way forward for the region. “It’s a great opportunity to attract public opinion to women’s football and also for female Middle Eastern teams to show their strengths against international opponents,” she concluded.