Charismatic, knowledgeable and bursting with passion for the beautiful game, Finnish women’s football boasts a rare coaching gem in Marianne Miettinen.
Currently thriving in a wide-ranging role, taking charge of her country’s U-18, U-19 and U-20 squads, as well as being an assistant coach with the senior women’s team, the UEFA Pro License holder and member of UEFA’s Technical Study Group took time out of her busy schedule to speak exclusively to Women’s Soccer United.
Women’s Soccer United: Marianne, has being involved on several rungs of the Finnish football ladder proved positive in terms of player development and promotion?
Marianne Miettinen: It has been a really good solution for us. In our structure we have Andrée Jeglerzt, who’s our technical director and senior team head coach, then me [U-18s to U-20s], then our U-15s to U17s head coach Marko Saloranta and of course former Finland midfielder Anne Mäkinen (Editor’s note: a winner of 118 senior caps), who is the physical coach and talent coach for all our youth national teams.
Marko is an assistant coach with the women’s senior team too, which means that we both know the level our young players need to work towards, while it’s easier for players to come up to the senior squad when me or Marko are there. And [senior coach] Andrée was also there to help me at [the U-20 Women’s World Cup] Canada 2014, so he knows first-hand who’s coming through.
We’ve got a relatively small staff – Germany for example probably took twice as many people to Canada – but all my team have really big hearts and deserve huge credit. So I’d love to take this chance to thank Andrée, my assistant coach Pekko Söderström, goalkeeper coach Kim Ekroos, physical coach Jani Westerlund, physios Maria Winsten and Nicolas Guerrero, and our team manager Jeannette Good.
WSU: You are responsible for the Finnish FA’s player development plan from U-5 to U-19 level, can you give us an insight into that?
MM: In late 2010 Andrée, Marco and I got together to do an analysis of Finnish women’s and girls’ football, including our club situation and what kind of players we had coming through. Then we went to the Women’s World Cup in Germany in 2011, in order to analyse the best teams; every playing position; the best players; what attributes are needed to be at the top; styles of play and other important aspects of those teams at the very top in Europe and the world.
After that we created our own development plan based on the things that we in Finland are good at; what we need to develop; what’s required in every position; and what kind of style of play and formation we need to develop to be able to get to the top. Then we worked with this age group, the 1994-born players, first with Marko and then with me, working on our chosen way of playing and following our development plan.
So, their success is pretty solid proof of the soundness of our decisions. We worked a lot with Andrée, travelling around the country, supporting the clubs, helping them with physical testing and showing them what we were looking for. We really looked at how to improve the everyday lives of players and clubs – because that’s where the real development happens.
Even though club coaches of course have their own ideas and objectives, everyone’s been very cooperative. In fact I think the biggest thing which Andrée has brought is that in Finnish women’s football we are all working together these days, which is so important. We’ve got so many good people who really want to help the players develop as both people and footballers.
WSU: You’ve a very positive record as Finland U-19 coach, including reaching the semi-finals of the European U-19 Championship in Wales in 2013, which secured qualification for Canada 2014. What have been the key values you have tried to put in place?
MM: I’d like to read you something the players wrote to me after our U-20 World Cup campaign ended, which really sums up how I want them to see the work we’re doing: “Here we are, after a three-and-a-half year journey, together in Canada among the 16 best teams in the whole world. You have believed and trusted in us, even when we didn’t believe in ourselves. You have instilled in us a winning mentality and taught us to be braver players, which has helped us take big steps as people too. Thanks to the relaxed atmosphere in the squad we have been able to be ourselves and enjoy every moment. The bravery, skill, self-belief, teamwork and team spirit that you have given us has got us this far, and we’re not finished yet.”
One key victory can change everything. For this ’94-born generation, a win over Spain [late goals from Juliette Kemppi and Emma Koivisto securing a 2-1 success in October 2012, in the first qualifying round for Wales 2013] opened up everything for us, it gave the players the belief they could beat anybody. And now that generation has gone all the way to the U-20 World Cup, it’s shown all our other young players just how much is possible.
WSU: Can you tell us a little bit about those members of the 1994-born generation who are now senior regulars?
MM: Part of our philosophy is about creating leaders in every sector of the pitch, and one of the greatest things in coaching is seeing how much players grow as human beings. A great example of that is full-back Emma Koivisto, who’s already a senior international and has now gone off to play in the USA for Florida State University.
She’s very shy off the pitch but she’s very brave on it – you’ll remember her from Wales last year, when she ran 70 metres before setting up a late winner for Adelina Engman versus Norway. Anyway, we often have group sessions, trying to build the players up, make them feel more positive and take responsibility, and in three-and-a-half years she’d never stood up in front of the whole group alone. But in Canada she said “now’s the time”, and stood up alone in front of everyone and gave a presentation.
We were all very proud of her at that moment and I think moving to the United States will be a great chance for her to become even more independent, see another culture, learn from their football, their style of play and be able to focus on playing football. What’s more, FSU coach Mark Krikorian was Anne Mäkinen’s coach at Philadelphia Charge also – so there’s a connection there.
Two others that have stepped up to the senior squad are Adelina Engman and Juliette Kemppi – who are both forwards but quite different players. Adelina is more about power and explosiveness, while Juliette is clever, a great finisher and has good movement which creates chances for team-mates. She can score many different types of goals, comes alive in the penalty box and is always thinking several steps ahead.
There’s also attacking midfielder Nora Heroum – who’s a No10 with fantastic vision and technique – and defender Natalia Kuikka, who both went to last year’s Women’s senior EURO. While they weren’t able to play in the U-19 EURO in Wales, they were both with us in Canada. So, that’s five of this ’94-born generation who are already regulars in the senior squad.
WSU: What was your verdict on Finland’s performance at August’s U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada? What lessons will you, your staff and the players learn from the experience?
MM: Well, I thought we were very brave and we always tried to play football. The players understood their roles on the pitch, worked hard for each other and they never gave up.
We were unlucky to lose all three games? I don’t think luck is ever a factor – if you lose then it’s because the opposition have done something better than you. For example if you look at [opening Group A opponents] Korea DPR, they were really skilful and very technical. That’s something we can work on for the future – individual skill, positioning, keeping the ball better and having more variations in our play.
Against Canada, we took them by surprise early on by how physical we were. In the first half we won all the duels, but once they recovered from that we saw how physical, how strong Canada really were. They ran so much, which is something we can take from them. And they were not just fit but very active, they made a lot of runs without the ball, which always causes problems.
From Ghana, again we can learn from their creativeness, their individual skill. Against them you’re playing a team playing very free football, so you never quite know what’s going to happen. Of course, one of our strengths is our organisation and we don’t want to take that away, but I’d also like to get across to my players that they too can have more freedom to make their own decisions out on the pitch – they need to react and adapt to what’s going on in each period of game.
Overall, this U-20 World Cup was so important for this generation. Of course we were aiming to win all our games, but if you look at the bigger picture, experiences like playing in front 16,000 spectators against Canada, taking on such varied teams, the media interest, it will all carry Finnish women’s football forward. The girls learned so much, which long-term will be much more important than if we’d won one or two games.
WSU: One final question, what’s your view on the fact the Women’s World Cup 2015 will be a 24-team competition? How disappointing was it for Finland to miss out?
MM: I think it’s really positive [that the World Cup now features more nations], as it’s important to have teams from all over the world. For example, at the U-20 World Cup it was great for my players’ future development to take on opponents from Asia, Africa and North America. I can’t see any negatives to expanding the number of teams and I hope for the sake of women’s football that this leads to an increased number of girls and women’s players everywhere.
Missing out this time is tough to take for Finland but it’s not a catastrophe, because we’ve undergone a huge generational change, particularly since the EURO in 2009. We’ve still got a very young team but, as the ’94-born players get older and if we can keep a core of more experienced players too, then by EURO 2017 we will have a very complete team. That’s the one we need to aim for.
UK-born but currently based in Spain, I’ve been covering men’s and women’s football for UEFA.com for several years, including trips to two Women’s U-19 European Championships