WHILE fans look at results as a barometer of whether a coach is good or not, it is always more insightful to speak to the players who have worked with them.

Speaking with New Zealand WNT head coach Tom Sermanni about his coaching experiences is a real eye opener. 

He has worked with some of the greatest players in the history of the women’s game. Coached through periods of positive transition in which resources have flowed into soccer, impacting the personalities he has worked with on the pitch and brought about a growth in the need to manage support teams off the pitch.

Most interesting for me was speaking to Tom about his spell in charge of the USWNT and particularly a disastrous Algarve tournament in 2014 which ultimately resulted in him losing his job. But not just because of what he had to say on the subject.

Tom was very willing to open up about the lessons learned from that trip. Not so much mistakes made on the pitch but in the management of the multidisciplinary support team. 

As our discussion turned to plans for how his session at this year’s Soccer Innovation Summit would look, we hit upon the idea of an head-to-head discussion with one of his former players. 

There were plenty of candidates Tom could have called up but when I added the extra provision of a former player who had now gone into coaching, one candidate stood out.

Within 24 hours I was speaking to Rhian Wilkinson, newly arrived in England to take up her role as assistant coach of the Lionesses under interim manager Hege Riise, and still in quarantine in a flat in Burton, just a stone’s throw from the national team’s St George’s HQ.

Rhian made it clear that Tom’s call was enough for her to want to take part in the conversation, which spoke volumes. But the fact that Rhian only played for Tom for five months – and in that time he had only come in as an assistant coach of the Canadian WNT – just blew me away.

Tom’s impact in that time has been huge on Rhian, and in some way will provide a yardstick for her transition from being part of the Canada WNT set up as player and coach for 20 years to moving to England. 

The former Canada WNT assistant coach and U20 head coach spoke glowingly of Tom. 

But in contrast to Tom’s openness about his ups and downs during his time as USWNT head coach, Rhian was very defensive about the man who had been her assistant coach for five months.

She defended his record, pointing to the number of players he blooded in the international game (Christen Press, Crystal Dunn and Julie Ertz in his first two games in charge). All good points, though the biggest one for me was the loyalty Tom had clearly earned from his former player. 

That loyalty and respect was earned from some of the lessons Rhian took on board from observing Tom’s work at close quarters during the 2015 World Cup. For her the big takeaway was how he adapted to the different dressing rooms, the different cultures and different roles he took. From being USWNT head coach to being a No.2 of the CanadaWNT.

These will be the cornerstones of the Soccer Innovation Summit Fireside Chat with Rhian and Tom. We will explore the player to assistant coach relationship, the role of a No.2, making the adjustments from being a No.2 to being a head coach and back again. Managing players and managing support staff and any questions you wish to ask them on March 4 at 11am EST.

Wednesday March 4, 11am (EST) 

TOM SERMANNI and RHIAN WILKINSON: Fireside Chat

BOOK YOUR SPOT: https://football-innovation-series.com/checkout-2/