The mood around the Scotland women’s camp is very different to what it was three months ago when the team were given a rousing send-off in front of a record crowd against Jamaica.
Kerr has named her squad for the opening Euro 2021 qualifier against Cyprus at Easter Road next Friday. Only injured duo Lana Clelland and Christie Murray are missing from those who travelled to France for the World Cup as Kerr attempts to move on from a difficult few weeks.
Reilly, who won eight Serie A titles in Italy and is recognised as Scotland’s greatest-ever female player, believes Kerr has been badly let down by the person, or persons, who allowed details of a closed-door meeting to emerge.
Kerr had reportedly been out for a meal “and some drinks” with her staff and returned to deliver a debrief that focused on the circumstances of Scotland’s elimination following a 3-3 draw with Argentina in their last group game on the previous day.
The Scots had been 3-0 up with 15 minutes left and on course to qualify for the knockout phase. Kerr admits she might have done things differently “in retrospect” with regards to the timing of the team meeting but Reilly believes she doesn’t have to apologise to anyone and is dismayed by the lack of support for someone who took Scotland to a new level only a few short weeks ago.
“She took us to the World Cup, she dragged us through the qualification – always over-achieving,” said Reilly. “She worked a miracle and now she’s been hung out to dry. I do not accept that.
“You are a professional athlete and you have to better yourself and show the coach they are wrong. You don’t blub to someone else. They have to do their talking on the pitch starting next week against Cyprus.
“The team has to stay united in good and bad times,” she added. “As a player and Scotland fan, what happens in the group stays in the group. Shelley is being judged more harshly than a man. I know we want equality but that’s ridiculous. I did not hear anyone defend her. We in Scotland love to put someone on a pedestal and then knock them back down again. There should be much more respect for Shelley Kerr as a mother and a daughter. The ones who will be hurting most with these revelations are Shelley’s family. It is a betrayal by someone in the group and that’s shocking.”
Some observers believe Kerr should have lost her job after details emerged of the meeting. Reilly has dismissed this as an over-reaction and is aghast at the absence of support for Kerr, who was put on the spot in a BBC Scotland interview last week. “She is a battler,” said Reilly. “I can’t believe no-one stood up for her. All the celebrity voices we heard before the World Cup, I can’t hear them now. It’s about supporting Shelley, who I imagine is feeling low right now. Everyone else has disappeared off the radar.
“I want to set up a Pro-Shelley team – I am self-appointed manager. She’s one of the best coaches in Europe and she happens to be Scottish. Let’s not drag her down.”
Reilly, who was finally presented with a Scotland international cap this summer by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon after playing against England for Scotland in 1972, is dismayed that someone broke the code of Omerta that’s generally accepted exists in a team environment – be it a player or a member of Kerr’s backroom staff. “From my point of view, it was the day after the game, some of the coaching staff went out for a meal and drinks.” she said. “When she came back she had a talk with the team. It got a bit heated I think because she was getting everything off her chest to certain players, who did not take it kindly. No-one died. Words were said because Shelley was hurting at the way we went out of the World Cup because of the last game v Argentina.
“They have been on a tightrope. A couple of drinks? It’s maybe given her some courage to say what she really thinks. Anna [Signeul] before her was too nice – they did not get results. You cannot be the players’ friend. The coach is to tell you when you are doing wrong, whether it’s with a beer in her or not. You should respect the criticism. Criticism only makes you better. Praise does not make you better.
“If you are a professional athlete you have to have thick skin. You should have heard some of the names we were called in my day. They could not be printed in a newspaper – in Italian or English. We knew when we were not delivering the goods. Then we won everything – I won Serie A titles, four Italian Cups, the league in France, the World Cup with Italy and was named the world’s best player.
“You think you get there because someone says you are great? It’s from sheer bloody hard work and criticism and learning what your weaknesses are.”