WOMEN'S FOOTBALL | SPAIN U-17
Toña Is: "Being national team coach seemed a long way off"
The first female coach to be brought in by the RFEF, Toña Is has been in charge of the Under-17s since October. The first objective: qualifying for the Euros.
In October 2015, Toña Is (Oviedo, 1966) became the first female coach to take charge of one of Spain's national teams when she was handed the role of coaching the Women's Under-17s, not long after they were crowned champions of Europe. An ex-player, mother and trained policewomen, Toña Is weighed up her first few months in the job in the company of AS; and spoke about the first challenge she and her team face: getting through the European Women's Under-17 Elite Round which gets underway this week in Belfast, where Spain take on Ukraine, hosts Northern Ireland, then Denmark with the hope of being among the teams taking part in the tournament proper, in Belarus in May.
The players have been working hard for several months and are now finalizing their preparations for this Elite Round at the Ciudad del Fútbol. How is the team shaping up?
The players are happy, they're working hard and have built up a lot of rhythm. Basically, we can't wait for the Elite Round to start.
Spain go into this stage as the defending champions. Will their previous experience at European level bring any advantages in this new edition of the competition?
Of course. Despite their young age, the majority of the players have experience at internatiional level. Out of the 18 players in the squad, 10 were in Finland, there are eight players who haven't had the experience of playing in a second qualifying phase yet but they do have experience at international level.
Does it present extra pressure firstly being the title holders and secondly being at the helm of Europe's most successful women's side in this category?
I try not to let those pressures have any effect, but there's no doubt that this team needs to show why they are the defending champions. They are the team to beat; and we now have the additional difficulty of facing rivals who will be more motivated than ever to beat the European champions. I am conscious of the successes which Spain has achieved at Under-17 level and for me, that represents an extra impulse, an extra motivation for me, so that we can go on to achieve many more successes.
What has surprised you the most about this group of players?
What's really caught my attention is how mature they are, considering their age. They know exactly what they want and will work hard to achieve it whilst helping and supporting the rest of the group. They have a healthy ambition which is what they need.
How would you rate your first few months as coach of the Under-17s?
Overall it has been extremely positive. It's an incredible experience and something which seemed a long way off to me when I first gained my coaching licence.
You gained your coaching licence in 2014 together with two other women: Melisa Nicolau and Maider Castillo and also at the same time as several ex-players such as: Guti, Luis Helguera, Casquero, Pedro Munitis, César, Nihat... but you are the only one out of the Class of 2014 to be in charge of a national team...
To be honest it's not something which I attach any importance to; but I do feel very fortunate that it has worked out that way. I am very happy and very grateful - particularly for how well I have been treated at the Federation.
At the moment you are the only female coach at the RFEF, would you like to see more women among the coaching staff here?
Yes, of course I would, but I am not the person who has any say in whether more women should be brought in, but let's hope it happens.
Spain's first opponents are Ukraine on Tuesday. Would it be presumptuous to say they are a reasonably accessible team to face in the first match?
In Europe, there are no easy rivals. We are talking about a team who are going to make everything complicated for us - Ukraine are a side who play a pass-and-move game and they have a very direct style; up front they have a lot of pace and in general they are quite a physical side who will battle for every ball with great determination. We'll need to be very careful.