As women’s soccer continues its rapid development across the globe, it can be easy to lose sight of the ‘big picture’. When looking for a fresh perspective on emerging trends in the women’s game, there’s no one better to turn to than accomplished women’s soccer coach Shek Borkowski.
In the interim years between WUSA and WPS, Borkowski staked his claim in the WPSL and the W-League with FC Indiana. During that time, he picked up Coach of the Year honors in both 2005 and 2008, won two U.S. Open Cups, two WPSL titles and appeared in the 2008 W-League Final. After FC Indiana disbanded, Borkowski jumped to the Russian Women’s Premier League where he helped guide Zvezda 2005 Perm to a league title in 2009.
Borkowski’s website is mandatory reading for fans of the women’s game. He was generous enough to lend his thoughts on a variety of topics pertaining to international women’s soccer. Here’s the Q&A:
AWK: What initially got you coaching women’s soccer?
SB: I coached FC Indiana men’s team and FC Indiana women’s needed a coach so I worked with both for three months and decided to concentrate on the female side based on the enormous growth potential.
AWK: You were recently in Turkey. What can you tell us about the development of women’s soccer in the country?
SB: I was there for four weeks and watched Turkish youth national teams play and train. Turkish women’s national teams are benefiting from many Turkish girls living, training and playing in Germany but choosing to represent Turkey. Their generation of 14-17 year olds is quite good technically and tactically. Turkish infrastructure is very well developed. For example, Turkish women’s teams train and play at Mardan Complex. The facility is magnificent. For those who maybe unfamiliar, football passion in Turkey can be frightening. If you have never witnessed Galatasaray vs. Fenerbahce for example, you can’t comprehend the emotions generated, and now that football culture and emotions are applied to women’s football as well. I expect Turkey, within 5-7 years, to make huge strides in women’s football.
AWK: China was the crown jewel of women’s soccer in Asia in the 90’s but now new nations have emerged in China’s stead. This can be confirmed by North Korea’s Final appearances in both the 2006 and 2008 U-20 Women’s World Cups and the all-Asian Final between South Korea and Japan in the 2010 U-17 Women’s World Cup. What’s been behind such marked progress and is this trend here to stay?
SB: Its long term planning, commitment, and discipline. Two years ago I spent three days discussing the Japanese way of development with Eiji Ueda who is in charge of women’s football at Japan FA. It was eye opening in terms of how meticulous Japanese are. Their training methods are completely different from the USA and if used them in the USA, parents of most players and players themselves would say they are boring.
It’s all about developing individual technique and repetition. In the USA, parents and youth players equate winning with quality. But any youth coach can manipulate tournament and league participation to achieve results and give impression of quality. Japanese equate technical mastery with quality. Results follow ability.
Another issue is Asian mentality. Two years ago I coached Mizuho Sakaguchi from Japan WNT. She, like all Asian players, works very hard, is technically very strong but has low opinion of her abilities and believes that she is average and needs to work harder. American players tend to have much higher opinion of their own ability.
I believe that the trend of Southeast Asian and Japan’s steady improvement will continue. I would add Vietnam as another country to watch. [Quick note: Vietnam will be hosting the 2012 U-20 Women’s World Cup.] I have had communication with their FA and I believe they are beginning to do smart things there.
AWK: What were your overall impressions of the quality of play in WPS this season and how does it compare to other international leagues?
SB: WPS is very good. Fast paced, direct, athletic. It is the job of a coach to manage his/her resources as best he/she can and find a style that suits his/her players. The game in WPS is played differently than for example in Germany. But the environments are different.
AWK: For all of WPS’ attendance woes this season, the lowest average WPS attendance is typically twice that of the Frauen-Bundesliga’s highest weekly attendance. Do you think the upcoming Women’s World Cup will help raise the profile of the Frauen-Bundesliga?
SB: Yes. I am certain that the WWC will showcase the best of German women’s football to the world.
More and more foreign players are attracted to Germany because of their superb professionalism of organization, marketing, TV production values, facilities, training, etc. When it comes to national players selecting clubs, national team coaches and federations have big input into those decisions. Those people will have firsthand experience in seeing excellence.
AWK: The English Premier League is known for its contingency of foreign players yet the Women’s Premier League was always very England-centric. Should we expect to see more international players in the upcoming FA Women’s Super League?
SB: I don’t think so in the short term. Players consider two things when deciding what league to play in; the quality of training/play and money. You can get better of both outside of England.
AWK: You commented on the cyclical nature of international women’s soccer with the recent ebb of countries like Sweden and Norway. Is Germany facing a similar decline in the near future?
SB: No, Germany are in a position to retain their leadership position for a long time. You can find very talented players in every country in Europe. The problem is that most countries lack infrastructure and support. Germany has that. I have seen talented 16 and 17 year-olds in Poland, Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia for example. What those countries do not have is the environment to nurture those talents. But we will see more and more of them move to Germany.
AWK: Can you identify one under-20 player from each continent worth keeping an eye on?
SB: I am tracking some younger players like Beatriz Zaneratto in South America. She could become a very good player. In Africa I think highly of Desire Oparanozie [Ed. Note: Both Zaneratto and Oparanozie were born on the exact same day – 12/17/1993]. In Asia it will be interesting to watch [17 year-old South Korean international] Yeo Min-ji and [17 year-old Japanese international] Eri Hirao develop. In Europe, especially in Germany there are just too many to mention.
AWK: With the rapid youth development of national teams in continents like Africa and Asia, do you think the United States will lose ground to more under-the-radar nations, particularly in terms of youth development?
SB: It remains to be seen but on the evidence since Chile 08, one could be concerned.
AWK: With the addition of Camille Abily, Sonia Bompastor and Eugenie Le Sommer, can Olympique Lyon realistically win the UEFA Women’s Champions League this year?
SB: Yes. Jean-Michel Aluas is a brilliant man and businessman. He knows what he is doing and right now only OL can break German dominance in Europe.
AWK: Spain finished as semifinalists in the 2010 U-17 Women’s World Cup after winning the 2010 UEFA U-17 Women’s European Championship. Spain’s men’s national team rose to real prominence in recent years yet the Spanish women’s national team has never qualified for a Women’s World Cup. Will this be the generation to put Spain on the women’s soccer map and why has it taken so long?
SB: There is talent in Spain and I should not say this but in my opinion [Spanish Women’s National Team head coach Ignacio] Quereda is the obstacle. Once a change takes place we will see Spain move forward.
AWK: South Korea’s U-20 star Ji So-Yung has undeniable potential. She is reportedly close to choosing between the Boston Breakers and Turbine Potsdam. As a coach, which of the two clubs would better suit the 19 year-old?
SB: I am sure she will get good advice and make the best decision for her development. She will have to keep in mind that Germany can be a difficult place for young foreign players to adapt to.
AWK: You wrote that the women’s game improves every three to four years by 50%. With that in mind, where can we expect the sport to be in 2015 both in terms of popularity and in quality?
SB: Women’s football is growing worldwide rapidly. It is becoming an acceptable activity and profession for women even in places where 5-10 years ago women would not dare. Right now Germany is the epicenter of growth which is just beginning. TV and internet are the keys to international development.
Despite criticism Sepp Blatter and for sure Theo Zwanziger should get credit for women’s football rapid rise worldwide.
Many thanks again to Shek. You can read his insights at shekborkowski.com and follow him on Twitter @shekborkowski.