Wednesday 01 May 2019, 08:05

Ellis and Vergara united for Concacaf

  • Vergara played host to the coach of the reigning Women's World Cup champions

  • Both part of the FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme

  • “We’ve got a very close and natural relationship”

The friendship between USA women’s national team coach Jill Ellis and her Mexico U-20 counterpart Monica Vergara might be new, but its roots already run deep. The chemistry between them is obvious as they talk, analyse, and, once some sage advice has been dispensed, share a laugh and a high five.

It is a relationship that began in 2018, when they formed part of the first generation of the new FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme, which has seen Ellis, who masterminded her country’s FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ triumph, become the mentor of the promising young Vergara.

There was no time for introductions. Within a month of the programme launch, Vergara faced the first challenge of her fledgling coaching career, the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Uruguay 2018, and turned to her experienced mentor for advice.

“I met her at an amazing time in my life, just before I went to the World Cup,” said Vergara, in conversation with FIFA, after recently hosting Ellis for a five-day get-together at the Mexican Football Federation’s Elite Performance Centre. “The whole process whereby I got to know Jill as a person had a very big impact on me, as did the fact that she told me she had faith in my work, shared her experiences with me, and told me my team was already good to go. And I think I got it all across to my players in the best possible way.”

“It took me back in time to the start of my career, and I remembered the moments when I needed someone’s help,” commented Ellis, echoing the words of her mentee. “I didn’t have the advantage of having a lot of role models to follow in women’s coaching, especially on the international scene. So in Monica’s case, I just try to help her with some of the decisions and choices she’s taking in her career.”

Head coach Monica Vergara of Mexico celebrate with her players

The coaches

Mentor: Jill Ellis

USA women’s national team head coach (52)

  • Began her coaching career 31 years ago

  • Guided USA to Women's World Cup glory in 2015

  • Was named FIFA Women's Coach of the Year that same year

Mentee: Monica Vergara

Mexico women’s U-20 national team coach (35)

  • Enjoyed a 15-year playing career

  • Was only 16 when she took part in the Women's World Cup in 1999

  • At Uruguay 2018 she became the first woman to coach a Mexican national team at a World Cup competition

Jill Ellis and Monica Vergara

Six months into the initiative and its virtues are already becoming clearer, as Ellis explained: “It’s an outstanding programme. I think every business and every organisation should set up something like this because having a role model, someone who can support you or you can talk to about things is crucial.”

“She’s an amazing person,” said Vergara of the American. “She’s open and she shares all her experiences on every aspect. We’ve got a very close and natural relationship. I find it fascinating. I’m very grateful and I think I’ve been luckier than anyone.”

A shared objective

Given that USA and Mexico have one of the biggest sporting rivalries on the planet, a bond such as the one now shared by Ellis and Vergara might seem impossible. The two coaches are breaking boundaries, however, and pointing the way to a brighter future.

“There’s always going to be rivalry out on the pitch, no matter who you’re up against,” said Vergara. “But that’s where it stays. It’s all friendly off the pitch and you can really see that in the women’s game. You can share a lot of things too, which could help our football grow.”

Ellis shared that view: “Yes, rivalries can be very intense when you’re on the pitch, but there’s a lot that’s important off it too. I feel very proud that I was paired with Monica and able to connect with Mexico. My daughter was born here, so it’s very emotional for me to be assigned to this country. Being part of Concacaf and helping to improve standards in our country also helps USA, because if we have strong rivals then it forces us to be better.”