The problem of coaching style without content

Martin Sjögren, manager of Norway, later suggested that it was England’s first goal, a rather soft penalty kick, that knocked his team off the rails. “We started to break down a bit and made some bad decisions,” he said. There is a deal of truth in it. Thorisdottir, having missed a penalty, seemed to freeze, unsure of her every touch, in her every movement, as if pursued by her mistake.

However, Sjögren’s statement is not the whole truth. To attribute the collapse of Norway solely to individual errors is, in essence, to confuse the symptom with the cause. The problem that caused Sjögren’s side to bend and break so spectacularly was not an isolated series of unrelated incidents, but a systemic flaw. England showed her strength, and her opponent failed miserably.

Part of the responsibility for this lies, of course, with the players. Mjelde and Thorisdottir are certainly experienced enough to spot their team’s weak point and react accordingly, perhaps by sitting a little deeper, or refusing to be persuaded to move out of their line with White, or pulling Blackstad closer for more protection.

But the vast majority of them fall on the shoulders of Sjogren himself. A sequence of individual errors may indicate some kind of major psychological failure, but it is far more likely to indicate a lack of team strategy. High-level players constantly make the wrong choice only when faced with limited opportunities. And it ultimately depends on the coach.

The player level in women’s football, especially in Europe, has risen dramatically in recent years. The sleek, technical style that went viral at the European Championships this summer is proof of that. However, it is difficult to argue that the quality of the coach followed the same trajectory.