Asian Women’s Cup: Dennerby, cop-turned-coach, aims to guide India past group stage

The Swede laughs easily, speaks in a soft and comforting tone and says, with a smile, that he is nice. “That’s what a lot of people tell me,” he smiles. “This job has given me a different perspective on life…”

On night patrols, Cop Dennerby rubbed shoulders with hardened criminals, intervened in horrific family fights and even prevented suicides. In the morning, having sorted out the real world issues, Coach Dennerby wouldn’t have the heart to yell at his players for simply missing a pass. “What is most important? he asks, rhetorically. “This job has changed me as a person.”

For a fortnight, starting Thursday, the good cop will patrol the dugout of the Indian women’s soccer team in the Asian Cup. The continental championship, which is also a qualifier for the 2023 World Cup, will begin on Thursday with a clash between the competition’s most successful team, eight-time champions China, and Chinese Taipei in Mumbai. Later today, India will open its campaign against Iran in Navi Mumbai.

Dennerby, the first foreign coach of India’s women’s team, faces an unenviable task of taking an inexperienced side, brimming with potential, past the group stage in their first appearance in the Asian Cup since 2003. “Our first goal is to reach the quarter-finals,” he told The Indian Express. “But first we have to put in a good performance against Iran and then see what happens. It’s exciting, it’s good, it’s enjoyable. When it comes to elite sports, you want to be on the big stage.

The 62-year-old knows the heights of playing on the ‘big stage’. As Sweden Women’s coach, Dennerby salvaged a group stage elimination at the 2007 World Cup by finishing third in the 2011 edition. It was only the third time Sweden reached the semi-finals. World Cup finals. He also coached Sweden at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics; both times they were eliminated in the quarter-finals.

Then, as the Nigerian women’s coach, he guided the team to the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations title in 2018 and, the following year, steered them to the quarter-finals of the World Cup. for the first time in 20 years.

Sweden to Nigeria to India

India, however, will be a different challenge. The two previous national teams coached by Dennerby had a real football culture. “In Sweden, most girls in the national team have been playing football since the age of six. It starts with once or twice a week up to at least five or six times when they are 15-16 years old. with their academy teams. So when they get to the national team, they’re already experienced. They also play every weekend in the league. Playing so much football 11 months a year helps a lot,” he says.

If Sweden had a solid structure, the Nigerian players had a winning mentality. “The girls were physical, strong and powerful players. Not always super organized, but they had this “nobody can beat us, we’re number 1” feeling. They were mentally strong to handle any situation.

When he accepted the offer to come to India, Dennerby had no knowledge of Indian football. And he wasn’t the only one.

Women’s football has always been an afterthought in India. There was no real league, hardly any investment and no matches for the national team – certainly none of this level. The Indian Football Association (AIFF) has taken small steps to rectify the situation over the past couple of years. But the damage caused by decades of neglect cannot be repaired in such a short time.

The federation hopes that the Asian Cup and the Under-17 World Cup, which India will host later this year, will accelerate the development of women’s football. Dennerby, who discovered her players after watching videos sent by junior women’s coach Alex Ambrose, was originally hired to coach the under-17s. However, after their World Cup was postponed due to the pandemic, he was put in charge of the senior team in August last year.

More than 200 sessions, 7 international matches

Five months is barely enough time to prepare a team for a competition of this magnitude. But it’s not like he had to start from scratch.

Dennerby, who discovered her players after watching videos sent by junior women’s coach Alex Ambrose, was originally hired to coach the under-17s. (To file)

The Indian players, he said, were quick and had good technique. However, they needed direction in the way they played. “When you have speed, you have to find the best way to use it. For us, that meant not sending as many long balls for the attackers. So we try to build, so that we can play the crucial pass with more precision, which makes it more difficult to defend. And then use our speed.

Lasting 90 minutes playing with speed requires a high level of endurance, which India lacked. “It was enough to play a match, rest for a week and then play again. But that’s not what happens when you come to a tournament,” says Dennerby.

He enlisted in the Swedish World Cup Jane Tornqvist, one of the best defenders of her generation, as a strength and conditioning coach. Tornqvist’s task is to help the team reach a level where they can play a match every three days with the same intensity.

“We had 90 football sessions, 50 strength sessions, 50 running sessions, seven national team games, 10 internal games, 3 games against local teams,” says Dennerby. “We’ve had over 200 sessions since we started in August. So even though we learned one thing each session, we learned 200 things. Dennerby pauses for a second, smiles and adds, “Hope we got better.”

With very little international visibility for the team, the coach and his players enter the tournament blindfolded. This will be the biggest challenge for the young team to date. And while players fight in the field, they’ll have the good cop patrolling the dugout.

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