Olympic Football Tournaments 2020 – Women
- Rhian Wilkinson gained bronze on the final two Olympics with Canada
- Now she’s going for gold as assistant coach of Great Britain
- She tells us about British expertise, Hege Riise and the FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme
Rhian Wilkinson’s presence at Tokyo 2020 will come as no shock.
A participant in the three most up-to-date Women’s Olympic Football Tournaments, and a medalist on the final two, the previous Canada worldwide has a powerful affinity with this occasion. She’s additionally lengthy been thought to be one in all ladies’s football’s most fun up-and-coming coaches.
What would have been unthinkable till lately, although, is Wilkinson taking her seat on the Great Britain bench when Team GB face Canada in Kashima. The 39-yr-outdated wore the maple leaf 181 occasions as a participant in any case, and extra lately coached the nationwide U-17 and U-20 groups whereas performing as No2 with the seniors. The prime job itself appeared a matter of time – and future.
However, when Kenneth Heiner-Moller determined to step down as head coach, Canada opted to nominate Bev Priestman as his successor. Wilkinson, regardless of being supplied a spot alongside Priestman – and heaping heat, gracious reward on the lady who beat her to the job – determined to step down and head overseas.
“I made that decision to become a better coach,” she defined to FIFA.com. “I realized a lot from the coaches I labored with in Canada, but it surely was all the time the identical folks, the identical gamers, the identical model. I felt I needed to go away to develop.
“Not that it was easy. It’s really hard to leave your home, and incredibly tough to leave your family and friends. But I resigned, without a job to go to at that stage, because I knew it was the path I needed to take.”
Fortunately for Wilkinson, her time in unemployment proved transient. Within a few weeks, she had been snapped up by England as assistant to the Lionesses’ interim head coach, Hege Riise.
Having expressed a want to not solely transfer overseas, however transfer out of her consolation zone, it was precisely the form of problem she had craved.
“England is now a world leader in women’s football,” she stated. “When I take advantage of the phrase privilege to explain being right here, I imply that very severely as a result of it seems like such an thrilling time to be a part of the sport in this nation.
“I’m also loving learning from Hege. There’s so much to admire about her.”
Learning from a legend
For Wilkinson, this realisation is nothing new. She turned a completely fledged member of the Riise fan membership way back to 2005, when the pair had been staff-mates at Norway’s Team Strommen.
“Hege was in the final yr of her profession and solely operated in a small space of the sector, however nonetheless managed to dictate and dominate video games. She simply had a lot method and imaginative and prescient.
“When you have the honour of enjoying with one of many best to ever play the sport, to begin with it’s disheartening since you see you’ll by no means get anyplace near their degree. But it’s additionally wonderful to look at how they simply glide via video games, the way it seems to be like no effort in any respect, and the best way they instinctively see the place the house is and the place the ball ought to go.
“She was the assistant coach after I got here again to Strommen and, if you realize Hege, you realize she’s a quiet girl. But when she does converse, she has this knack of seeing the precise factor that must be introduced up. She has such readability of imaginative and prescient in her teaching.
“I additionally love that she’s by no means misplaced herself in the job. There’s an assumption typically that to be a coach you’ve bought to be loud and demonstrative, however she doesn’t see the necessity. And she’ll get extra from a quiet dialog with a few gamers than from that complete stereotypical head-coach factor.
“I feel we work really well together. I’m much louder than her, more directive on the field, and she generally gets me to run the sessions while she coaches them. She’s totally without ego, which is such a rare thing in a head coach, and completely happy for other people to lead and take the limelight.”
While their personalities might differ, Wilkinson and Riise have loads in widespread. Among the issues they share are comfortable recollections of the Olympics, with a mixed assortment of 4 medals: three bronzes and a gold gained by the latter in 2000.
It made good sense, subsequently, that Team GB – in searching for coaches to information the staff via a singular and difficult match – ought to flip to those enthusiastic consultants.
“The Olympics gave me my best experiences in football,” mirrored Wilkinson. “I’d dreamt of turning into an Olympian however by no means imagined I might get anyplace close to a medal, and standing on the rostrum in Wembley in 2012 continues to be my all-time prime football second.
“We had been outplayed in quite a lot of matches at that match. But we caught collectively, by no means stop on one another and have become the primary Canadians in 86 years to medal in a staff sport.
“Rio was additionally a beautiful second for me. I used to be coming to the tail finish of my profession and I solely performed in three of the six video games – and doubtless the video games that mattered least. But though that was a tricky transition to go from being a starter to a bit-half participant who wanted to assist the folks beginning forward of me, I’m actually pleased with how I did that.
“I became a leader in that tournament and it definitely helped me become a better coach because I understand the pain of losing your spot.”
Even worse than failing to make a staff, in fact, is lacking out on a squad altogether, and that was the destiny that befell a number of gifted British hopefuls. Besides having the ability to empathise, Wilkinson admits to having been surprised on the calibre of participant Team GB have been compelled to go away behind.
“The depth of talent in Britain is just incredible,” stated Wilkinson, the daughter of an English father and Welsh mom. “I believed earlier than taking this job that I used to be conscious of how good the gamers listed below are, however they’ve positively exceeded my expectations. Picking a squad with simply 16 outfield gamers was an inconceivable job.
“Watching them, it makes me so glad I’m retired! I joined in a observe the opposite day and I couldn’t get close to them. It’s so spectacular, and this nation would be the hub for the ladies’s recreation for years to return.
“In terms of the squad, people might think that there need to be representatives from all the nations that make up Britain. But that was never the mandate. We were told from the start: this team is going for gold and only the best players should be on it.”
Guidance from greats
The solely one that has beforehand taken on that ‘impossible job’ of choosing a British ladies’s squad is somebody Wilkinson is aware of extraordinarily effectively. Hope Powell was, in any case, paired with the Canadian in FIFA’s Coach Mentorship Programme, and choosing her brains about England, Team GB and the Olympics has naturally turned a precedence.
“I contacted Hope even before taking the job and she wrote me a lovely email when I got it,” stated Wilkinson. “She’s somebody I love loads and I’ve been so eager to listen to her knowledge and insights.
“I’m like that with everybody. When folks throw out that line, ‘Give me a call any time’, I’m somebody who takes them up on that! When I used to be leaving Canada, I known as Jill Ellis, I known as Sarina Wiegman, they usually had been so beneficiant with their time and recommendation. I like that facet of the ladies’s recreation.
“That FIFA mentorship course was one of many best programmes I’ve ever been part of. The mentorship half was in fact essential, and actually helpful, however the networking facet of it was so essential too. It was via that course that I met Jill and Sarina, for instance, and never simply the mentors however the different mentees, who’re all teaching at a superb degree.
“It’s one of the programmes I feel has to keep going because it gives so much support and confidence to young coaches at a critical side in their development. I definitely feel very fortunate to have been part of it.”