- Scotland recently qualified for their first FIFA Women’s World Cup
- Shelley Kerr has overseen a major change in the team’s approach
- She explains the key factors behind their unprecedented success
The reaction said it all. Scotland, who had never made it to a FIFA Women’s World Cup™ and had been underdogs throughout their preliminary campaign, had just qualified for France 2019.
For coach Shelley Kerr, the achievement was especially sweet. Kerr, after all, well remembers being part of a generation of Scottish players to whom such moments were the stuff of dreams.
The qualifying failures and frustrations she suffered during a 19-year international playing career also leave her well placed to assess why this Scotland team succeeded where so many predecessors failed. Kerr did so in an interview with FIFA.com, highlighting five key factors in the team’s qualification.
1: Spirit and resilience
Of their seven victories en route to France 2019, four came after Scotland had fallen behind. And the setbacks didn’t just come on the field.
"The players have been tested every step of the way, and each time they’ve responded brilliantly. To give you an idea, in our first game, our luggage didn’t arrive and we ended up having to ask to borrow Belarus’s kit just to get some training in before the game. We’ve also had some bereavements to deal with along the way and, of course, we’ve often gone behind in matches and had to fight back.
"For me, this team has shown character in abundance. They’ve also been very focused and determined. Scotland have had a lot of ‘glorious failures’ down the years but we weren’t interested in that, or in seeing ourselves as a small country. I’ve always said to the players that 99 per cent of the time you get out of a game what you deserve, and I just don’t buy hard luck stories. Our mantra is, ‘The ball doesn’t go into the net by chance’."
2: Tactical changes
Kerr made the bold decision to change the style that had served predecessor Anna Signeul well for 12 years, introducing a more expansive and attacking approach.
"We wanted to build on what Anna had put in place, which was a very robust team that was well organised and tough to break down. We did a lot of analysis on the team and looked at the critical factors and trends at the top level of women’s football, and where we could bridge the gap.
"Looking at our style of play, and being more expansive from an attacking perspective, was key to that and is something we’ve worked very hard on. We’ve always believed that we had players with the individual talent to do that, and that’s been borne out. Technically and tactically, the team have matured massively during this campaign."
3: Embracing their Scottishness
Kerr asked her players to shed any inferiority complex and maximise the positive attributes for which Scots have previously been renowned.
"We laid down some guiding principles for the team last year and one of the things we said was, ‘Yes, look globally, but also remember that we’re Scottish’. We need to have our own identity and our own style – one that reflects our culture. I think that hasn’t been apparent in Scottish national teams in the past, but we saw that Scottishness in abundance during the Women’s World Cup qualifiers.
"I’ve mentioned Erin Cuthbert (a tough and talented Chelsea forward) in this respect before because she personifies what I’m talking about. She’s streetwise, she’s gallus (a Scottish term reflecting style and swagger), she’s confident and she’s a fighter with a real desire to win. That’s the kind of Scottishness we’re looking for."
4: Increased professionalism
The vast majority of Scotland’s players now play for leading professional clubs in the top flights of England, Sweden, USA and Italy.
"We now have so many players working in professional environments that bring out the best in them, and which are so, so competitive. We also have a great partnership with Sport Scotland and the Scottish Institute of Sport that facilitates the home-based players in terms of strength and conditioning and sport science.
"Targets are set and the players are very keen to see and improve their stats – and to compete against one another. We’ve closed that physical gap to the top nations, which was very apparent in years gone by. Doing that has also been vital to the way we want to play because you can only adopt a high-energy style if you have the physical capabilities to pull it off."
5: The team behind the team
Kerr also highlighted the work done behind the scenes by her "superb" support staff, paying a special tribute to No2 Andy Thomson.
“Andy’s a former professional footballer but he had no prior experience of women’s football before becoming my assistant - and that was actually a big reason for me asking him to do the job. I already knew almost all of the players from having played with or coached them, and I wanted someone to come in with no preconceived ideas.
"Andy has added so much value to the coaching team and he has been a real tower of strength to me. We have some big debates and discussions but we’re always on the same page when it comes to the team. He was a striker, so attacking is his big focus, and he’s also a great statistician when it comes to performance solutions. He's probably less emotional than me too, and I feel our strengths really complement each other's.”