SHELLEY Kerr will be remembered as the head coach who guided the women’s team of Scotland to their first World Cup. In her 34 games in charge of the national team, the tournament in France was also the turning point.
A good morning to bury bad news,”A good morning to bury bad news,” It was on Christmas Eve that Kerr stepped down. Up until the final two Group E qualifiers in February, she still had a deal.
Kerr was the chosen choice of the Scottish Football Association (SFA) for the job when Anna Signeul suggested in early 2017 that she would move to a similar post in Finland. In April, the former Scotland center back was formally named and took the helm in the Netherlands after the European Championship.
Goalkeeper Lee Alexander made her debut in place of the recently retired Gemma Fay in their first game, an unchallenged 3-0 victory in Hungary, an overjoyed Claire Emslie scored her first Scotland goal, and other players got game time. It was an announcement that there was a new regime going into effect and things were about to change.
In essence, Kerr revitalized a team that had become predictable, with experienced players ensuring a spot in the starting eleven and not offering a chance to younger players. There was also a greater offensive drive, even if some defensive vulnerabilities remained, especially at the right-back position.
The home games against Switzerland and the U.S. were highlights at the end of 2018, but there was also a memorable comeback from a two-goal deficit in Poland and the 4-1 victory over Iceland in the Algarve Cup the following year. Like, ironically, the first 70 minutes of the Parc des Princes against Argentina, when Scotland took a 3-0 lead in the last 16 of the World Cup and looked to have won a historic spot.
For the next 24 hours, though, he did just about everything that could go wrong. Three goals were awarded, the last thanks to the VAR that Fifa used at the women’s tournament for the first time, and the following night things deteriorated further at the remote Paris team hotel.
The announcement that undisclosed alcohol-related altercations had occurred, which did not surface until two months later, was highly detrimental not only to Kerr, but also in a wider sense.
The growing support expressed by the euphoric World Cup farewell match against Jamaica at Hampden for the women’s team was replaced by the impression that the alleged events in Paris had not been dealt with transparently – and that had Steve Clarke and the men’s team been involved, different results would have resulted.
Former right-back Emma Black, who played in Scotland and with Glasgow City with some players in the current squad, was not shocked by Kerr’s departure.
“I felt from the outside there was something of a divide in the camp – pro Shelley and anti Shelley. Obviously, that was after the Argentina situation.”
It is a massive setback not to qualify for the European Championships in England, especially as Scotland was seeded first in the group. Did internal tension have an impact, or was it simply a coincidence that in the three devastating 1-0 losses, chances were not transformed into goals?
The latter will refer to a double-header in Finland, but senior players must take responsibility for the unexplained lack of verve and determination in Lisbon against Portugal. That, above all, was the game that dashed the hopes of Scotland.
According to the SFA, the target is to have a substitute in place in time for the February away game in Cyprus and four days later for the second leg against Portugal. The performance director will usually play a key role in the process of recruiting, but Malky Mackay left the building as well.
As the performance and growth divisions are being combined due to SFA cuts, he is unlikely to be replaced. Andy Gould was elevated to the rank of Chief Football Officer and will be actively involved in the search for a successor.
There are not many obvious contenders for the position that has been held since 1998 by only three women. The other was Vera Pauw.
By the time the World Cup came around, Kerr gave her all the work and made it a huge success. That and her substantial contribution over a 31-year period to the national team can not be taken away from her, but the untimely announcement on Thursday was the logical conclusion for everyone concerned.