Wednesday 19 July 2023, 12:15

Vlatko Andonovksi: “This is an opportunity to give something back to my homeland”

  • U.S. Women’s National Team Coach is a mentor on FIFA’s Coach Mentorship Programme

  • Hailing from present-day North Macedonia, he mentors North Macedonia U-17 Women’s National Team coach Katerina Mileska

  • The two came together most recently at the latest workshop held in Lisbon, Portugal

U.S. Women’s National Team coach Vlatko Andonovski has always wanted to give something back to the homeland where he set out on the long and winding road that eventually took him to one of football’s top positions. Now he has found the ideal way of doing it – by mentoring one of its up-and-coming women’s coaches. With less than two months to the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™, Antonovksi was one of 20 coaches who shared their experience during the second in-person workshop of the FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme in Lisbon in late May. Others included two former FIFA Women’s World Cup winning coaches and two Olympic gold medal winning coaches.

The words of his predecessor Jill Ellis, who led the U.S. to successive world titles in 2015 and 2019, appeared on the screen to remind participants the importance of being a mentor. “Who you are is how you mentor. Having a better understanding of oneself is one of the first steps towards having a better relationship with others. It is important to know what you will be consciously or unconsciously transmitting to your mentee through your mentoring relationship.” Born in Skopje, which was part of Yugoslavia at the time and is now capital of North Macedonia, Andonovski was a defender who plied his trade for six years in his homeland, before venturing in 2000 to the U.S. where he spent a further six years playing. His fledgling coaching career began in youth leagues in Kansas City, before he was appointed Head Coach of FC Kansas City, later moving to the Seattle Reign (now OL Reign). His ascent to the top of women’s football was complete when he was appointed as U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach in late 2019. Despite the upward trajectory of his own career, his motivation for being part of the Coach Mentorship Programme was, in his own words, altruistic.

USA coach Vlatko Andonovski stands for the national anthem before a game

His mentee is Katerina Mileska – coach of the North Macedonia U17 women’s team. “It feels very special for me to mentor Katerina for many different reasons. First and foremost, I feel like this is an opportunity for me to give back to the environment that I came from,” he said. “Another reason is because I feel very passionate about growing the women’s game. There are many other senior coaches here in this programme, and in some ways, it is our responsibility to pass on knowledge and help other female coaches grow, to further develop this game.” Mileska, by comparison, is in the nascent stage of her coaching career. Having been capped over 40 times for the national team as a defender, she is still pulling on her boots for her current club ZFK Despina in Prilep, the country’s fourth-largest city. Discovering the identity of her mentor, was a special moment. “When I found out that he was going to be my mentor, I was beside myself” she explained in a break between sessions in Lisbon. “Firstly, he is Macedonian and, secondly, he’s such a successful coach. He has won trophies in the U.S. at club level. He is also the head coach of a national team who are the current world champions. I cannot put this experience into words.”

The two first met at a workshop in Costa Rica, held during the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, before travelling together to North Macedonia in September. North Macedonia is a country of just over 2 million inhabitants, whereas the U.S. boasts a population of over 330 million and is at a vastly different stage of its women’s football evolution. What was Katerina’s motivation for applying for the Coach Mentorship Programme? “First and foremost, you have a fairly short career as a professional football player, and you know well in advance that you will only be able to play the game until a certain age. “After retiring, you can continue your football career as a coach, which had initially inspired me to enroll on this programme” she said. “I love football, and to learn from world class coaches is a unique experience that cannot be compared to any other.”

Katerina Mileska of North Macedonia with staff members and players during the National Anthem before the start of the UEFA Women's Under-17 Championship Estonia 2023 qualification match between Germany and North Macedonia

Mileska’s most recent tournament experience as a coach was a chastening one, in a tough UEFA U-17 qualifying group alongside Germany, Portugal, and Hungary. How to deal with the lows, as well as the highs, is something her mentor has been keen to provide strategic support on. “Obviously the environment that Katerina is in is very different to the environment that I work in, but they both come with different levels of difficulties” said Andonovski. “Being a coach, it will never get easier. It’s important for her to understand how to face the challenges, accept the challenges, and embrace them head on.” Andonovski, whose team face the opening game of their FIFA Women’s World Cup title defence against debutants Vietnam in Auckland/Tamaki Makaurau on 22 July, says he still has plenty to learn.

US Women's National Team Coach Vlatko Andonovski pictured at the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 Final Draw

“I’m happy to be surrounded by great soccer minds, great people. People that have been in the women’s soccer game for a long time” he answered with a smile. “Even though I’m a mentor, I come very open-mindedly and with a growth mindset, thinking that there will be something that I will learn in this course. I’m searching for it constantly in every presentation that we have, in every talk or every discussion. “Whether that is from a fellow mentor, mentee or expert presenter, it doesn’t matter, as long as I come out of this with something new.” The FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme is one of FIFA’s eight women’s football development programmes.

FIFA Coach Mentorship programme objectives
Key objectives

FIFA will achieve its objectives by executing a five-pronged strategy to:

Govern & lead … strive for gender balance

Every MA will have one spot on its Executive Committee dedicated to the interests of women and by 2026 have at least one woman seated, while by 2022, at least one-third of FIFA committee members will be women. Strengthen and expand the Female Leadership Development Programme and improve professionalisation and regulatory oversight.

Educate and empower

Address and bring focus to specific social and health issues and reach out to NGOs and government stakeholders to develop sustainable projects that improve the lives of women.

Develop and grow … on and off the pitch

By 2022, have women’s football strategies in 100% of member associations, and by 2026, double the number of MAs with organised youth leagues. Expand football in school programmes, create elite academies and increase the number of qualified coaches and referees, vastly improving access to the game for girls.

Showcase the game … improve women’s competitions

Optimise regional qualifying for FIFA competitions and develop those events to build top-level players at a young age. Advance and launch new international competitions and improve the professional club framework.

Communicate & commercialise … broaden exposure & value

Advance awareness of top female athletes and raise the profile of women’s football by enhancing engagement, harnessing technology, implementing a distinct brand strategy and using role models and ambassadors as well as a dedicated Women’s Legends Programme. By 2026, launch a Women’s Football Commercial Programme.