From the specificities and the evolution of the women's game to the challenges faced by players and coaches, the technical observers share their views on the European Women's Championship.
Working around the clock to analyse the games, the technical observers are definitely some of the busiest people at UEFA Women's EURO 2017. All former national team coaches, they look at trends, patterns and developments in the elite game and identify best practice examples for coaching and education purposes.
Hesterine de Reus, Anne Noé and Patricia González kindly spared a few minutes to share their initial impressions of the finals.
What are the key differences between women's football and men's football?
Hesterine de Reus: We should try to stay away from comparisons. Instead, we should look back and compare with the development in the sport. Women's football has a much shorter history, which also makes it a strange comparison. If you want to compare, take footage from men’s football when they had a history of 50 years and then you can make the comparison.
Anne Noé: I totally agree with Hesterine. Just as a simple example: this year was the first time they’d ever broadcast a women’s game in Belgium live.
How has the women's game advanced from a technical point of view?
De Reus: Players have more opportunities to train and start at a younger age. Individually, all players are technically, tactically and physically much more developed. We also have better coaches in women’s football so we're growing a lot, at individual, team, and tactical levels.
Can you identify some initial trends at Women's EURO 2017?
Patricia González: What is remarkable for me to see here is how the gap between the teams is narrowing. This is the result of many people working for many years to develop women’s football in the participating countries.
De Reus: Over the last few years, especially from a defensive perspective, teams have become increasingly better organised, meaning it’s more difficult to score goals. You can see teams balancing each other out. The attacking side still has to develop. We are now in a phase where we really have to develop set pieces as a tool to score goals from.
Do you think physical levels have improved?
Noé: We still see too many ACL injuries. We need more physical preparation in terms of how to prevent those injuries, not only with the national team, but also at club level. We need to put more emphasis on keeping players fit and preventing injuries.
How have coaches had to adapt to the evolution of the game?
Noé: We've spoken to all the coaches during the tournament. Some of the coaches pointed out that, for them, it becomes a real challenge to find solutions for competing against the sort of deep defensive block that some teams use.
For them, every tournament is a new challenge. For this one specifically, we only have two coaches who were at the last tournament [Italy's Antonio Cabrini and Sweden's Pia Sundhage]. So, for many of those coaches it's also a big challenge to work with the players because they don’t know the women's competitions so well.
What are the key challenges for women’s football in terms of developing from a technical point of view?
González: Reduce the gap at club level. There is still a large gap in the leagues, even in the big countries. There are still too few clubs where the players are professionals.
De Reus: The domestic competitions are a big challenge, because there is a huge difference between certain countries. There are only a few countries in Europe that have really good women's leagues, and even in the countries with strong leagues there's a big difference between domestic competitions and international competitions.
Noé: In some countries, if players want to progress and compete at the highest level they have to leave the country. But if all the better players leave the country then the competition they leave won't be of a high enough standard. We need some good solutions if we want to find the right balance.
What’s the best part of your job … and the most challenging?
De Reus: The best: to watch the best matches in Europe. The challenge: the huge workload.
González: The best: to analyse a competition at the very highest level. The challenge: to have the energy to go from match to match and stay 100% focused.
Noé: The best: the animated discussions between the technical observers. The challenge: to finish your report before leaving for the next game!