Monday, 13 October 2014

Women’s football: still on the bench?

by Alastair Pusinelli.

This past Sunday marked a very historic day for women’s football in Britain. Is was the final day of the Women’s Super League. Three teams were all vying for the title on the final day, and as Chelsea Ladies were favourites, I thought I’d tune in. All The Blues needed to do was better the results of Birmingham and Liverpool and the title would be theirs. But of course Chelsea, who were away at Manchester City, went two goals down in the first half, and could only grab one back in the second period, despite a City red card. However, second placed Birmingham City could only manage a draw at home to Notts County, which wasn’t enough to overhaul Chelsea. So, Liverpool Ladies’ 3-0 victory over Bristol Academy saw them leapfrog both Birmingham and Chelsea to retain the Women’s Super League Title. A truly spectacular advert for the women’s game in the country.

I’m no expert on women’s football, but I’ve seen enough games to have an understanding on the sport, and how it compares to the men’s game. First of all, the game pace is much slower and players are allowed a lot more time on the ball. Of course I am used to watching either Premier League matches in which the ball is zipped around quickly, or watching Portsmouth go down the Football League and now have to deal with the muscle of League 2.

So I was quite surprised that Chelsea Ladies, the league leaders going in to the final game, were trying to launch long balls up to their lone striker, who is five foot six. But, when Chelsea got in-and-around the penalty area and played a lot of short, sharp passes with quick feet they looked dangerous but ultimately couldn’t create that golden opportunity. Play like this is not too dissimilar to what we see every weekend in the Premier League, especially when one team is dominating the possession stats. To follow, I also saw a resemblance to Spanish football, in particular the Barcelona ‘tica-taca’ style with neat passes around the edge of the box, eventually breaking down the opposition.

This leads quite nicely on to my next point. Next year’s Women’s World Cup is to be hosted in Canada, but there have been severe complaints as all of the venues are set to use artificial turf. Almost 50 top female professionals have signed a petition and threatened legal action if the tournament is not played on grass, citing gender discrimination. They feel that the male version of the tournament would never be played on artificial turf, but I think there is a hidden reason for this. Other than being cost-effective, artificial surfaces change how the game is played. If, as I expect at a World Cup, the pitches are of the highest order, this can actually benefit the women’s game. Having trained at Ciudad Deportiva de Paterna, Valencia’s training ground, I know that about 80% of the pitches there are artificial. This is to encourage the kids coming through the ranks to pass the ball along the ground as the turf is much truer than grass.

So reverting back to when I saw Chelsea Ladies intricately move the ball around; playing on an artificial surface will help the sides who play in this manner. So, with few players over six feet tall and no ‘Drogba-esque’ powerhouses up-front, I honestly think the future of women’s football should be on artificial surfaces. Instead of always being compared to the men’s game, the women could have their own, unique style which could, in time, attract the masses.