Saturday 20 January 2018, 10:42

Signeul braced for Finnish challenge

  • Anna Signeul has been Finland’s women’s team coach since August 2017  

  • The Finns have yet to lose a game under the Swede

  • spoke to her on the eve of France 2019 qualifier with Israel

Anna Signeul likes a challenge. After starting out as a coach in 1981, at the age of just 21, the Swede has drawn motivation from one test after another and put together an impressive career in the process. Now 56, she has taken on another challenge, picking up the reins of an ailing Finland side. Having never failed to rise to the occasion, Signeul is confident she can do so again and revive their fortunes.

The Finns have fallen on hard times in recent years. Once a force in women’s football, the Scandinavians dropped to 28th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking in March 2017, their lowest position since its creation in 2003. Signeul’s arrival in August 2017 has sparked something of a turnaround, however, with her new charges having gone unbeaten in four matches since then.

*Five out of five? Portugal 1-1 Finland (friendly, 16.09.17) Portugal 1-1 Finland (friendly, 19.09.17) Finland 1-0 Serbia (France 2019 qualifier, 22.10.17) Finland 4-0 Israel (France 2019 qualifier, 26.11.17) Next up: Israel-Finland, 22 January *(France 2019 qualifier)

"I couldn’t be happier with the way things have gone in our first few weeks together," the Swede told "I’ve seen for myself that the players have a lot of potential. The senior team is strong, there’s a lot of young talent, and a lot of enthusiasm for women’s football in the country. And the results are coming. Overall, these first six months have been productive. The road is long though."

Signeul’s caution is understandable, and she knows better than anyone that a good coach is a patient coach. After all, the latest achievement on her CV, which was to steer Scotland to UEFA Women’s EURO 2017, was several years in the making.

"The challenge I have with Finland cannot be compared to the one I faced in Scotland," she explained. "In 2004, when I took over the Scotland team, we were starting from scratch. Finland are a lot better placed and have got a much bigger pool of youngsters. The foundations are good and the coaches and instructors have been trained well."

Eyeing a miracle Signeul’s words are backed up by the nearly 35 years of experience she has acquired since her first job, as player/coach with Swedish club IK Brage.

"Even as a child I was always interested in coaching, by the chance to share experiences and knowledge," she said. "I love exchanging views, sharing things, and getting ideas across. Coaching is something that comes naturally for me."

She added: "What inspired and motivated me more than anything was working with youngsters. You learn things and it’s inspiring. Helping young people and enabling them to flourish and grow through this sport has been a great source of satisfaction for me. I feel useful in this role."

Swedish trio Caroline Seger, Nilla Fischer and Hedvig Lindahl are just some of the talents to have bloomed thanks to her. Having come under Signeul’s wing between the ages of 16 and 18, all three kicked on to become stars of the game.

"It’s wonderful for a coach to see such talent come through," she continued. "Generally speaking, I take a lot of pride from the work we did with the Swedish FA in developing the sport in our country. We managed to take the game to a very high level, and I can say the same about the work we did with Scotland. In all humility, I’m proud of the legacy we left behind."

After Sweden and Scotland, it is Finland’s turn to potentially take on a whole new dimension under Signeul’s stewardship.

"Taking Finland to the World Cup in France is a dream," acknowledged the coach, who has a big task ahead of her in a Group 7 that, aside from Serbia and Israel, also contains Austria and Spain. "Winning through to the finals would be totally unexpected," she said, summing up that task.

As her career record shows, however, the unexpected is something we have come to expect with this particular miracle worker.

Signeul on challenges

. What’s been the biggest challenge of your career?

Championing the cause of women’s football, especially in Scotland.

. Which team would you like to face in a World Cup Final?

Women’s football has come on so much that there are a lot of teams around now that I respect and would love to face in a World Cup Final. (Pauses) Taking on teams of the calibre of the USA or Germany would be a dream.

. Which coach would you like to come up against in a World Cup Final?

(Pauses) I’ve got a lot of respect for coaches like Pia Sundhage and Silvia Neid.

. Are there any other challenges you’d like to take on in your career?

Coaching an all-star team would give me a lot of pleasure.