This morning the Football Association (FA) confirmed that Hege Riise is to lead the Team GB women’s football team during this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Riise, a gold medal winner as a player with Norway at the 2000 Games, will combine the prestigious role with her ongoing duties as interim head coach of the Lionesses before the home nations unite as a Team GB football squad to begin their preparations in June. Following the Olympic Games, Riise will continue in her role with England until Sarina Weigman’s arrival in September.
Riise will again be assisted by Rhian Wilkinson with whom she formed an immediate successful partnership during England’s recent international camp at St. George’s Park.
Riise said: “I know first-hand as a former player just how huge the Olympics are as a tournament and I am enormously proud to have this opportunity to lead the GB squad into the Games. We will go there to give everything we have to be successful and I hope we can also use the power of the Games to help women’s football continue to grow in popularity.
“I thank The FA for their trust in me, and also the National Lottery for the backing they are giving to the team. This kind of strong support is so important if we are to go there and perform to the best of our abilities.”
I had the pleasure of being present as Riise was again unveiled by the FA’s Head of Women’s Football, Baroness Sue Campbell.
Importantly all home nations players were reassured that they will have an equal opportunity when it comes to being selected for the squad. Campbell explained, “We are watching them carefully and we are analysing their performances, as we are with all of the English players but the majority of the squad will be English. I think that we have some excellent players from the home nations and they will earn their right because they are good players, not because we fell we ought to have them there. We have a duty to Hege and the rest of the staff to make sure we give them support and data to select the right eighteen players.”
With it being a small squad of only eleven players Campbell suggested, “the ability to demonstrate that you can play a number of positions is going to be important.”
Campbell also confirmed that the players had input on Riise and Wilkinson’s appointment. She said, “The players have seen a lot of transition and I felt that it was important to talk to them about whether they wanted another transition with another coach. After the February camp, they were unanimous that they felt that the combination of Hege and Rhian was a successful one and that they would prefer to grow and develop that.” Although she wouldn’t disclose which players she’d spoken to but you can imagine the likes of Steph Houghton, Lucy Bronze and Jill Scott were all involved in that conversation.
She admitted that despite there not being an open recruitment process there were coaches that approached her to declare their interest in the role and they were spoken to but they were advised of the direction that the FA were going in and their rationale behind that decision.
Campbell was asked if she thought that this was a missed opportunity to develop a British coach within this role. To which she responded, “Yes, but the GB coaches that had the experience and the ability to, in my opinion, give us the opportunity to win are committed to their own clubs. One of the challenges of using one of those coaches as our head coach would have been the data and information that they would’ve had on players from other clubs and it would have been a difficult situation both for the coach and I think for the other clubs.
“Looking at the situation we were in, I think we were incredibly lucky that Hege applied for the role that she did, was willing to take on the challenge and did perform so well at the February training camp. But that is why I waited, I waited to see if that was the right solution for the players, for our ambition to win and I was assured of that by everything that went on.”
If the Team GB side is to be successful then they could face six games in seventeen days, something that is not lost on Riise. She suggested they need to take care between games and to make sure that they don’t run out of gas by keeping their days between games “light and fun.”
With regards to targets in Tokyo Campbell explained, “We have the aspiration to win the tournaments that we are in. The FA has launched a new national strategy which is clear that one of our major game-changers in the next six years is to win a major tournament and this is a major tournament.
“Our aspiration is to go there and win but this doesn’t mean that we will put pressure on Hege. She is a winner, she knows what it is like to win and she wants to win and she will do everything in her power to win so she will not need pressure from anyone else.”
Team GB will learn who they will face on April 21st when the draw for the women’s and men’s tournaments are held in Tokyo. Team GB are one of twelve teams taking part in the football tournament, with matches taking place between 21 July and 6 August. It will be the first time Great Britain and Northern Ireland will be represented at the Olympics since London 2012, with the squad qualifying via England’s run to the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup semi-finals.
Currently, there are nine other nations confirmed so; Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, United States and Zambia. The remaining places will go to the winners of the play-offs being held next month between Cameroon v Chile and Korea Republic v China.