With Middlesbrough struggling to survive the drop Steve Wilson asks why the chances of Hope Powell succeeding are so slim

As Middlesbrough’s steady slide towards relegation fast approaches a vertical drop into the Championship, questions are inevitably resurfacing over the wisdom of employing Gareth Southgate as the club’s manager in his first job in the dugout.

Steve Gibson, Middlesbrough’s most patient of chairmen, suggested that removing Southgate from office at this late stage of the season would offer “no magic wand” to cure the club’s ills. But even he might soon be forced to reluctantly embark on a search for a replacement. And if he does, perhaps this time he might decide to go for someone more qualified.

Someone, perhaps, like Hope Powell, the manager of the England women’s team for more than a decade who will lead her country to a third consecutive European Championship later this year, buoyed by the recent success of winning an eight-team warm-up event in Cyprus and a creditable quarter-final appearance in the last World Cup.

Like Southgate, she represented her country with distinction – she won 66 caps and captained the side. Like Southgate, she is personable and honest with a desire to see the game played right. Unlike Southgate, though,   she holds a UEFA Pro Licence, the highest managerial qualification in the sport. “I think the world of football has to accept that women are qualified to be part of the game,” she says. “We have some fantastic female coaches, not only in England but across the world, and we should be respected for putting the work in to gain those qualifications. Sometimes I’m not sure we get that credit.”

From the 2003-04 season, the Premier League, in a bid to bring England’s top division in line with the other major European leagues, agreed the rule that no manager employed by one of their clubs should be without a UEFA Pro licence.

Since that time a number of exemptions have been made, most notably in the cases of Avram Grant at Chelsea and Glenn Roeder at Newcastle. Of this season’s managers, Southgate and Gianfranco Zola at West Ham do not possess the requisite piece of paper, though both have had to offer evidence to the league that they are actively pursuing it.

Southgate’s case was that, with 240 hours of teaching and plenty of homework required to complete the course, he could not have found the time in the later stages of a career that still included regular international commitments. Should he still be in a job, his free pass will expire at the start of the 2010-11 season, when all exemptions will be denied, though those mangers of age and experience such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Harry Redknapp will be able to use their FA-issued Diplomas, a kind of honorary Pro Licence awarded for long service, after that time.

After becoming the first woman to manage England, from 1998, Powell completed her impressive set of coaching awards in 2003, alongside Stuart Pearce and Phil Brown. And so no barrier is in place, on paper at least, to her taking over a men’s professional team. “Make me an offer I can’t refuse and I’ll think about it,” she says. “It depends. If someone came with an offer that I thought was serious enough, then I’d be a fool not to. But I can’t imagine that those opportunities are going to come around too readily.”

Powell watched with mixed feelings in April as one of her fellow female coaches, Donna Powell (no relation), became the first woman to manage a semi-professional men’s side in this country when she was in the Fisher Athletic dugout for their Blue Square South match with Eastleigh, after winning a fund-raising competition at the cash-strapped club.

If not smashing the glass ceiling that exists in England, Donna Powell, then, at least can claim to have scratched it slightly. However, predictable chants from visiting fans and some equally less than enlightened observations in the media turned a significant step in the advancement of women coaches into a throwaway news item.

“On the one hand I was really excited by the story and then when I saw the coverage and watched the news and the coach expressed it as a bit of light relief I found that a bit insulting,” says Powell. “I wouldn’t say I’m frustrated by it. It is still a man’s world unfortunately. Which isn’t good is it? It should be a woman’s world, right?”

From WSC 268 June 2009

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