Monday 26 November 2018, 18:23

Coaching mentees making history for their nations

  • Inaugural FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme took place last month

  • Three programme participants qualified for the U-17 Women's World Cup semis

  • speaks with Canada's Rhian Wilkinson and Mexico's Monica Vergara

Jill Ellis, Hope Powell and Asako Takakura will all be keeping a very close eye on Wednesday’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Uruguay 2018 semi-finals.

This may seem like an obvious thing to say about three accomplished and decorated women’s football coaches. However, this time around, there is added incentive for them. Just last month, they participated in the inaugural FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme at the Home of FIFA in Zurich, Switzerland, where they all became mentors for three young and aspiring coaches: Ellis for Monica Vergara, Powell for Rhian Wilkinson and Takakura for Gemma Lewis.

One month later and Mexico head coach Vergara, Canada head coach Wilkinson and New Zealand assistant coach Lewis have all led their countries to historic journeys by reaching the U-17 Women’s World Cup last four. For all three nations, this is their first trip to the semi-finals of the tournament.

“I’ve had messages throughout the tournament from Monica (Vergara) and also from Gemma (Lewis) and I’ve been supporting them and encouraging them, so of course, we’re invested in our own teams’ success, but to see people you care about succeeding as well is lovely,” Wilkinson, who won 180 caps for Canada, told “I’ll be as competitive as the next person when it comes game time, but to know that she’s going through the same things I am, the process is very similar, it’s nice.”

Head coach Rhian Wilkinson of Canada poses for a portrait 

“I was a little sceptical at first (about the mentorship programme) because I didn’t understand how it would work when there’s a lot of overlap,” Wilkinson continued. “I thought it would be a bit cagey, but actually, the people that are willing and wanting to be involved are very giving of their time, knowledge and energy.”

Like Wilkinson, Vergara played for her country’s senior national team and featured in the Olympics. She has worked in various technical coaching roles within the Mexican federation and took over as head coach of the U-17 women’s national team in January 2018.

“It (mentorship) is what football represents,” Vergara said to “It’s incredible all that the mentors share, how they opened their world and experiences, and it’s something that has helped me a lot before coming here to Uruguay.”

Head coach Monica Vergara of Mexico poses for a portrait 

Historic CONCACAF derby awaits When Mexico and Canada face each other in the semi-finals at Uruguay 2018, it will be the first time that two CONCACAF teams have met at the U-17 Women’s World Cup.

“Her team is very similar to what she was like as a player: very passionate, very strong, never giving up on any ball,” Vergara said about Wilkinson, her upcoming opponent on the touchline. “It is the same thing I know about her as a coach: she is always cheering her team on, she is very passionate, seeing the positive side of things and getting the best out of her players.”

“She’s just a class human being,” Wilkinson said of Vergara. “I think the Mexico team reflects her in that they never give up. You saw that against Ghana, falling behind twice and coming back. They’re passionate about the game and, how she acts, you can see her players obviously love her and love playing for her.”

No matter the result on Wednesday, one thing is clear, the coaching fraternity in women’s football grows stronger by the day and there will be many who follow in their footsteps.