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How Vera Pauw's husband and the 'honesty' of the FAI convinced her to take the Ireland job

A wide-ranging interview with the woman tasked with guiding the Ireland WNT to a first-ever major tournament.

A BUSY DAY of media duties for new Ireland Women’s National Team manager Vera Pauw saw her sign off with a smile, and a nod to the man who is closest to her.

vera-pauw New Ireland WNT manager Vera Pauw. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“It was actually my husband who convinced me to do it,” the former Dutch coach grinned as a wide-ranging interview about her new post and a series of other topics came to a close. “You will see him, he will come.”

In the press conference, 56-year-old Pauw explained how it all came about; how a phonecall from FAI High Performance Director Ruud Dokter led to a meeting in Frankfurt, and how everything went from there.

She fielded other routine questions from the floor about the job at hand, the team she will now take charge of and their chances of qualifying for a first-ever major tournament in Euro 2021, the current situation at the FAI and the state of women’s football across the globe. 

But naturally, it was in the more informal situation of a smaller media huddle afterwards that she opened up and delved deeper into points she made at the top table.

Starting with the meeting in Frankfurt.

She went on to explain how the “honesty” of the FAI ultimately won her over, but afterwards, she needed some time to weigh up her options before an agreement was reached. The perfect place to do so was on a pre-planned holiday to Austria with her husband, and fellow ex-Dutch manager, Bert van Lingen.

“Very cliché, he was my coach in the past but he stopped coaching as we fell in love,” former Netherlands defender Pauw explains of van Lingen, who was also assistant manager to Dick Advocaat at Rangers and elsewhere, and previously to Guus Hiddink and the late Rinus Michels.

“Rinus Michels was, I can say, the third most important man in my life after my husband and my father,” she continues. “He was the coach of the century but his personality… and our contact was very close, like family.

“We still miss him every day, his personality, his way of communication was above everybody, on another level. Football-wise, he and my husband developed back then the new way of teaching which has now been adapted throughout the world, game-related coaching.”

Listening to Pauw speak, it’s fair to say that football is always on the brain. Boasting an impressive CV as both a player and a manager, she lined out 89 times for Holland between 1983 and 1998 before making the move into coaching.

While her husband was at Ibrox, Pauw started her management career with the Scotland women’s team between 1998 and 2004. From there, she took charge of her native country and led them to the semi-finals of the 2009 European Championships. 

Since that six-year stint, she’s taken the reins at Russia, South Africa and US club side Houston Dash, but her work on home soil was a big talking point at FAI HQ yesterday.

vera-pauw Pauw in her job with Houston Dash. Source: Wilf Thorne

“I can honestly say the success of the women’s team in Holland is due to this lady here next to me,” Dokter stated. “She was the driving force behind the development of women’s football in Holland.”

Pauw reckons it was easier 10 years ago to bring the Dutch to that level as many opposing teams are now fully professional. But, “those first steps” have been made in the Irish set-up already thanks to the work of her predecessor Colin Bell — who she knows but hasn’t spoken to about her new role — and those who went before him.

She is ready to build on that, and hopefully, be the person to lead this team to a first-ever major tournament. Just how realistic is it for Ireland to qualify, though?

“It is realistic,” she interjects immediately, after watching the Girls in Green beat group minnows Montenegro 2-0 at Tallaght Stadium on Tuesday night. “But it will be a tough journey. Not an easy journey, not A, B, C.”

“Although Ukraine lost 8-0 to Germany, they are a structured team with some highly-talented players and they have also grown. Most of them play professionally. The next one will be the key game so timing is not perfect.

“It’s a key game but pressure is the best you can get in top sport, you can get the best out of people under pressure.”

Clear-cut Group I leaders Germany hammered Montenegro 10-0 in their opener, and following that up with an 8-0 dismantling of second seeds Ukraine before Ireland had even kicked a ball, and with the latter coming to Dublin next month, that’s definitely the big one.

“Ukraine are not of the calibre of Norway and Netherlands now,” she says of Ireland’s 2018 World Cup qualifying group opponents. “Ten years ago the Netherlands were at a lower level than Ukraine are at now.

“I think it will be very tight. [Ukraine are] beatable but we are also beatable. It will be very close, very tense, and a crucial match of the campaign.”

When she’s reminded of that November night in 2017 when Ireland held the Dutch, World Cup finalists this summer, to a 0-0 draw in Nijmegen, she adds:  “I don’t think the Netherlands have progressed since 2017.

“Ireland have, very much. We are going to build on that. I am not saying that to be nice, I’m saying it because I believe it.”

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katie-mccabe-celebrates-scoring-a-goal-with-rianna-jarrett-and-denise-osullivan Ireland were 2-0 winners over Montenegro on Tuesday night. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Efficiency is the main target going forward now, she says. General principles and knowledge are already there, it’s just the nitty-gritty of the game that the team needs to work on. 

The talent is obviously there too, she stresses, but Pauw has worked with full-time professionals through her career. With several home-based players in the squad here, she concedes it will take an improvement in cash flow for the real potential of the team to be well and truly realised.

“To change that you need money,” she accepts. “That is clear. You need to pay salaries or at least pay loss of earnings. That is a crucial discussion in itself but one we’re already having. We’re trying to be creative in getting that done.

“If the gap between the home-based players and the professionals abroad is getting too big, you do not have a future in the game.”

But in the absence of cash comes creativity, and professional programmes — focusing on the prevention of overload — for those Women’s National League players will suffice for now. 

So, any concerns about the FAI’s current difficulties, or past struggles considering the well-documented Women’s National Team strike in 2017? Plain and simple, no.

As aforementioned, the Association’s honesty about the situation was actually a huge factor in Pauw taking the job, she explains.

“You know what, the way that the management — the President [Donal Conway] and the General Manager [Noel Mooney] and Ruud, Performance Director — the way that they were dealing with that actually convinced me to do it,” she says. 

“They were so honest about the problems that we face. They didn’t want to paint a picture for me that is brighter than it is. They also painted a picture of where we go from here; what has happened, where we are at this stage, and how they try to solve the issues step by step to get into a healthy situation.

“That made me decide to do it, to be part of it. It’s people who want to grow, people who want to take steps forward and not to be in the picture themselves, but to work for the game itself. That is what you don’t see often in Associations.”

“Here we had a situation where we talked for four hours about what we would be able to do together and why they want to be,” she adds.

vera-pauw Pauw was unveiled at a press conference at Abbotstown yesterday. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“The key thing is technically Ruud [Dokter] and I are coming from the same school. All the teachers of the FAI, all the coaches are working within the same philosophy so for me, it’s the first time ever that I don’t have to fight for the philosophy that I believe in.

“The philosophy that brought South Africa from U10 level to Olympic level in two-and-a-half years, the philosophy that brought the Netherlands from just an amateur, leisure level to the semi-finals of the European Championships.

“I believe in that system, I believe in that philosophy. The combination of being able to work freely within that philosophy here, and honesty about the situation made me decide.”

With a one-campaign agreement in place which sees Pauw take charge until the Euro 2021 finals across the water in England, she refuses to look any further ahead.

The idea of a potential long-term project is put to her, but the 56-year-old shuts that down fairly quickly. Her last role was an advisor to the Thailand women on a three-month basis, as she had decided against full-time jobs or ones “you have to throw your whole self into” prior to that. 

But then Ireland came knocking. 

“I need to be honest about my private situation,” she concludes. “My husband is 17 years older than I am, he’s 73 now.

“Biking is our big passion so in 10 years’ time we will not climb the Tourmalet or the Mont Ventoux any more, and now we do. That is why I don’t look further than my commitment to 2021, and then we’ll see.”

Then, we will. After all, he is the one who convinced her to take charge in the first place.

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About the author:

Emma Duffy

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