Harvey Leaves: Who Next for Arsenal Ladies?
Arsenal Ladies manager Laura Harvey left her post this week to take up the challenge of coaching Seattle Reign in the National Women`s Soccer League. The Gunners have dominated the Ladies game for so long, but the biggest threat to their hegemony will always be America, where the game is bigger and, crucially, more professional. Seattle Reign form part of an eight team professional league in the States next season.
Despite only being 32 years old, Harvey has quite a coaching pedigree behind her. She was assistant manager at Birmingham from 2002 until 2008 and served as Assistant Manager at Arsenal for two years before being appointed manager. She has also been involved with the England coaching set up at U-17, U-19 and U-23 level. It was probably a matter of time before America came calling for her. Harvey won 3 consecutive league titles, two Continental Cups and an F.A. Cup in her three years at the club.
The Ladies side is on hiatus until their Champions League quarter final encounter with ASD Torres in March. So Arsenal must now look for a successor. This could prove to be a tricky undertaking. Harvey herself steadied a rocking ship when she took over from Tony Gervaise in 2010. Gervaise succeeded the legendary Vic Akers, who oversaw a technical director position within Arsenal Ladies. Gervaise hinted that Akers` interference was behind his decision to quit after just eight months in the hot seat. Harvey had the coaching experience and the knowhow of the club setup to step in and maintain some continuity. Akers still holds that technical role, but it looks as though another outsider will need to be drafted in.
Current assistant Rehanne Skinner has been Harvey`s assistant for two years and maybe the favourite for the job. She managed Leicester City to successive promotions prior to joining the club. But her CV doesn`t have the same breadth that Harvey`s had when she joined. Some of the better candidates have recently settled into new jobs too. Chelsea coach Matt Beard left for Liverpool in November and Everton manager Mo Marley left the Toffees to take on the England U-19 job last month too. Both would be unlikely to uproot so swiftly. England manager Hope Powell would surely be beyond the Gunners reach.
The trouble Arsenal have is that they operate in such a vacuum that it would be difficult to identify a top coach. All of the best coaches in Europe already have the top jobs, whilst the domestic talent probably don`t have the pedigree to take the Arsenal vacancy. The Gunners are in a situation whereby they are trying to bleed in new talent such as Jen Beattie, Jordan Nobbs and Dani Carter, with the help of some outgoing old hands like Kelly Smith, Jayne Ludlow and Ciara Grant. Harvey has broken the back of that work, but it`s likely to be tougher next season.
Kelly Smith`s new deal hasn`t yet been sorted, but presuming she stays, which she probably will, her fitness limits her appearances. Jayne Ludlow barely played last season due to a persistent calf injury and Faye White is on maternity leave. The influence of the more experienced players will wane. Of course one of the older players might be tempted to slot into the role. Jayne Ludlow could be an outside bet whilst Faye White would probably figure amongst the favourites. Faye is certainly known for her leadership and ambassadorial skills, but Roy Keane and Tony Adams` coaching careers show you that teaching is a different discipline that requires a more finite set of skills than pumping your fists together.
Clare Wheatley has been at the club for 17 years, as a captain and for the last seven years as Developmental Manager. She certainly has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the club and oversees the Youth Development at the club. But it`s still effectively a liaison / administrative role and a coaching role would be a different kettle of fish. Another old favourite Marieanne Spacey could be in the frame. She has experience of management with Fulham Ladies in the period when they turned professional and with AFC Wimbledon. For the last six years however, she too has been in an administrative post as a technical director for the Worcestershire F.A. She might be reluctant to relinquish that role for the pressure of the Arsenal touchline.
With Vic Akers still on the scene for guidance, Arsenal could go for a collaborative approach and perhaps appoint Rehanne Skinner and Faye White or Jayne Ludlow for instance, with Akers guiding. But it`s a real crossroads for the Ladies side and this is a decision that could prove pivotal. The last time someone was brought in from outside of the club was a disaster with the long serving Akers still lurking, whilst the experience inside the club for the position is questionable at best. It`s the sort of decision Arsenal Ladies have only ever had to take once before and they got it wrong then with Tony Gervaise. They need to get this one right. LD.