SHELLEY Kerr has only been in the role for four games but already the former Scotland women’s under-19 coach has led Arsenal Ladies into the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the last four of European competition. It is little wonder she is loving her new job.
“It all feels a bit unreal,” said the 59-times-capped international, who inherited the talented Arsenal squad from Laura Harvey, who was headhunted by US side Seattle Reign FC. Kerr added: “My first games in charge were in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. That might have been daunting for some but, for me, it was an exciting challenge. The club got to the semi-finals in the last two years so the expectation was to make it there again and we did that but now we want to go one better. The good thing for me is that I have a good group of girls, they are very professional and exceptionally talented and they are desperate to win.”
The club last won a European title in 2007 but, this afternoon, they will take what they hope will be a significant stride towards eventually emulating that feat, when they host VfL Wolfsburg at Meadow Park in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final.
“These are the games you want to be involved in, as a player and as a coach, and I’m excited by it. This is a different challenge to the one we face every week. Down here there is that big rivalry between English and German teams, whether that’s at international or team level, and whether it’s the men’s or the women’s teams, so that gives it another wee edge,” added Kerr.
Going into any match as the underdog is something of a rarity for Arsenal Ladies. That’s to be expected given they have amassed 38 major trophy triumphs since they were founded in 1987. But, this afternoon, their manager believes that’s exactly what they are. Not that it matters. The Scot still believes her side can win.
But it will be tough. Their opponents are a team intent on upholding Germany’s impressive record on the European stage. In the five years since Arsenal first won the premier European trophy, known back then as the UEFA Women’s Cup and now called the Women’s Champions League, Bundesliga clubs have won the competition three times and finished runners up twice. In total, they have won six of the 11 finals and finished runners up four times. But, despite that domination of the women’s European club game, Kerr says her side are going into the two-legged tie in fine fettle.
In her four games at the helm, including those quarter-final ties, the team have scored 17 goals and conceded just one.
“We were disappointed to concede that goal, in the home leg of the quarter final against Italian side ASD Torres but, since then, we have had three clean sheets and the girls know how important that is, especially at this level because that gives us the platform to win games because we know we are strong in attack.”
Even without the vastly experienced England international Kelly Smith, who is still struggling with a soft tissue injury which has ruled her out of this afternoon’s match. But Kerr says the only selection issues she has are welcome ones. “While Kelly is a big player for us, we have so many talented players here that it’s not too big a worry.”
Among those are Scottish stars Jennifer Beattie and Kim Little, players whom Kerr helped develop while still employed by the SFA.
All the players know what is at stake. “The girls all have the talent, my job is just to provide the attention to detail and to help prepare them as best I can and give them as much info as possible on the opposition. By the time they take to the pitch, they will have a Plan A, a Plan B and a Plan C in their minds and it’s then up to them to execute it. But they took great confidence from beating another German side, past winners Turbine Potsdam, in one of the earlier rounds and I think the fact that the final will be played at Stamford Bridge this season is another huge incentive. The girls really want to get to that stage. They came close in the last two seasons. This year they want to take the next step.”
If Kerr feels it’s all a bit unreal right now, who knows how the ambitious Scot would feel with a Champions League final to prepare for after just six games at the helm. You can bet it will have been hard earned, though.