Shelley Kerr: Telling players left out of World Cup squad was tough call

Scotland's Lee Alexander, manager Shelley Kerr, Joanne Love and Nicola Docherty with young fans at Hampden Park. Picture: Lorraine Hill
Scotland's Lee Alexander, manager Shelley Kerr, Joanne Love and Nicola Docherty with young fans at Hampden Park. Picture: Lorraine Hill
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There is no doubt that Shelley Kerr is her own person. The Scotland manager has taken soundings from the great and the good as she has set about planning her preparations for the country’s first appearance at the women’s World Cup. Ultimately, though, she has moved to the beat of her own drum. Even when sounding out a death knell.

It would have been easy for the 47-year-old merely to fill the air with tunes of potential glory yesterday as she named her 23-strong squad for next month’s tournament in France – where she has dared to target emerging from an arduous group that contains the much fancied pair England and Japan, as well as Argentina. Instead, in genuine and heartfelt fashion, Kerr delved into the discordant that has come along with her role as orchestrator of a thrilling 
adventure.

The 49-year-old decided to make personal calls to 33 players on Monday, to tell them directly whether they had made the final cut. It took her almost nine hours to complete the onerous task. She concedes it was emotionally wearing, but her gut told her it was a necessary break from two years earlier. Then the players only found out the composition of the squad for the 2017 Euros when, to a similar fanfare that accompanied the announcement yesterday, it was made public at a Hampden media conference.

It is a measure of Kerr’s humanity that she feels a responsibility to those omitted from her World Cup squad.

“This was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do, probably because it’s the first time we’ve been to a World Cup,” Kerr said. “Everyone has their own ideas, but I spoke to my assistant Andy Thompson and Malky Mackay (pictured) and we felt it was the right thing to do, even though it was tough. Andy said I was on my own with that one.

“Players have missed out but we have used the same approach in every single camp and this wasn’t any different. I took advice from Andy and Malky and I made the decision to make it more personal.

“I tried to think how I would have liked things done, and, if I was a player who wasn’t selected, I would have at least preferred a personal phone call to hear it first hand. If selected, I also wouldn’t have liked to have been on tenterhooks for the following 24 hours. I factored it all in and wanted to try and do things the right way, as I saw it. It was a gut feeling I had and I’m glad I did it, even if it was tough. I started at 10am on Monday and it was almost 5pm before I finished.

“It was a tough day for the players who were disappointed. I understand their disappointment, anger and frustration. Nothing I could have said to them on Monday could have made it any easier. I appreciate that. There were some good phone calls in there, but the whole day for me was draining and emotional. I still feel for the ones who haven’t been selected and that will never leave me, to be honest. I have offered to go and sit down and talk to them face to face once they have time to reflect. They might not want that, but I will try to accommodate anything they want because they deserve that.”

Kerr has to move on, though. She is convinced that Scotland women can become the first senior national side to make it beyond the first group stage of a World Cup. “It’s really important for us that we focus on that target,” she said. “We know we’ll have to win at least one game. Does it need to be the first game [against England on 9 June]? It’d be great if it was. But we need to make sure we’re focussed and then we refocus after each game because we know that we’re going to have to do that.

“We know it’s going to be tough because you have England – who are tipped to win it – Japan – tipped to win it – and Argentina who have been at a World Cup before and are a progressing nation. So we know it’s going to be tough but that is our target. And, realistically, I think it’s achievable.”

What this Scotland won’t be is beset by any feeling that there is a Scottish psyche that seems to be programmed to produce glorious failure – or dash dreams and hopes in the most deperate fashion. If her players were so possessed of such a flaw, they wouldn’t be on their way to France.

“Listen, I don’t believe in the psyche thing. For me, you look at our campaign. Think about the first game,. We had a new coach for the first time in 12 years in me after Anna [Signeul] had done a great job and put the foundations in place, and we were battering Belarus… and went a goal down [before claiming a 2-1 away win]. So we have had to cope with a lot throughout the campaign.

“Against Poland, we were 2-0 down with 12 minutes left and we go and win 3-2. So there were so many moments throughout the campaign that have helped develop confidence and character within this squad. I think you see the way they play, 
they give their all for the national team.”

Kerr is excited about the send-off that awaits with the team’s final preparatory fixture, against Jamaica at Hampden on 28 May. Between 
tickets sales and distribution of briefs, a crowd or around 20,000 could be attracted to the national stadium – four times the record high for a women’s international in this country. “It’s been absolutely brilliant,” she said of the momentum that built through the qualifying campaign wherein she believes here team “captivated” the nation. “If we get that support, it’s well deserved.”

Kerr talks of creating a legacy to 
further the development of a sport that, in terms of profile and credibility, has been transformed in recent years.

They are operating at a level a world [cup] apart from the April night in 1989 when she made her debut for the national team in a 3-0 defeat by England at Stark’s Park.

“I had to pay £50 to stay in a hotel in Edinburgh and I didn’t have the whole Scotland tracksuit to wear. I wore the top and someone else wore the bottoms. So you can imagine how I’m feeling today.”