Wales are off and running in their quest to reach the Women’s World Cup finals, thanks to Jess Fishlock’s brilliant winner against Kazakhstan. Manager Jayne Ludlow says they now have the Russians in their sights.
— Wales Women’s Team (@FAW_Womens) September 18, 2017
With a 1-0 away win in the bag at the start of Wales’ latest Women’s World Cup qualifying campaign, Jayne Ludlow can look forward to her best players getting even more top flight football under their belts before they have to travel to Russia next month.
The Russians will be looking to hit back after their heavy defeat to England in their Group 1 opener at Tranmere Rovers on Tuesday night, but Wales will be able to head to the Minor Sport Arena Petrovsky in St Petersburg for the game on 24 October with a bit of a spring in their step.
Jess Fishlock’s wonder volley did the business in Astana against a much improved Kazakhstan side and more than anything else, Ludlow wanted to get the campaign off to a winning start. The experience of negotiating a 7,000 mile round trip to meet the Kazakhs will have given her squad plenty of confidence ahead of another long trip to Russia.
“It’s great for us to travel because it gives us more time together as a team. Whether that’s on a plane, in an airport or at a hotel, it gives the players’ time to develop team spirit. We enjoy it and we look forward to it,” said Ludlow, who also has to take her team to Bosnia.
“I have a maximum of 60 days a year with my team and only 30% of them are full time pros. We need to supplement their training, although in the future we will hopefully have 100% in full time training.
“We want to help them to be able to compete for full time contracts. We aren’t going to have a full-time, professional, club environment in Wales, so we have to provide something different.
“Our strategy when it comes to our women and girls is very different to what we provide for our men. We’re trying to create an elite player programme that we have never had before in Wales, a programme that will allow them to compete physically, tactically and technically with top level players.
“Many of them are only training about four hours a week, yet we are competing against teams in our Group like England who train 20+ hours a week. We’ve made some ground up over the past two years and our programme will look completely different in another two years, so those younger players with aspirations to get full time contracts will have the ability to compete at that level.
“It is a young programme, but we are still expecting good things from this first game and from the campaign as a while. We are going to challenge ourselves to push forward.”
Ludlow will be able to track the form of 16 players in her squad who are attached to Women’s Super League clubs this winter and when the action kicks off this weekend it will give her players the chance to test themselves against England’s finest ahead of their two qualifying clashes with the group favourites.
Having won the European Cup, nine league titles and eight FA Women’s Cups with Arsenal in one of the great female football careers, Ludlow knows what it takes to succeed at the top level. But she never enjoyed any success on the international front.
That’s what she wants to change and nobody would like it more than her to see the older generation in her squad finally make it to a top flight tournament
“The standard of the younger players coming through is changing drastically. The quality of those younger players from a technical aspect is different because they are being surrounded by better quality coaches from a younger age,” explained Ludlow.
“The game has changed hugely in the past 10 years. Players like myself had a full-time playing environment provided for us, without the current salary banding, but our roles with those clubs enabled us to train every day.
“Some of my senior players still aren’t managing to do that. They work full time and so we manage their lifestyle around that. They commit to everything we ask them to do, but they are on the go seven days a week, whether that is work, family or football.
“In the future I hope we can create an environment that allows more of our players to become full time pros. That’s the big push in everything we do.
“We are at the start of a very long project and so the more often I can put our younger generation amongst our older generation, the quicker things will grow. I love working with the 12-year-olds who are going to be great players in the future and I love working with the 30 year olds who are great players right now.
“We have to give them the best opportunity in this campaign to achieve their dreams. They have trophies from their club environments, but they would all say that getting success with their national team would mean much more.
“If we got to the finals in 2019 France it would be beyond, way beyond anything I ever achieved as a player. The pinnacle in this massive project that is ahead of us would be to qualify for a major tournament, and then ensure we are competitive when we get there.
“Can we do that? I hope so, I really do, not just for me and my staff, but more so for the current group of players and the next generation.
“This current group of senior players want to be the first who do that. They are really hungry and prepared to work as hard as they need to do to achieve that, but we need some luck along the way.”