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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Jack Lacey-Hatton

Brighton's Amy Merricks opens up on replacing mentor Hope Powell in WSL dugout

"When you're in it, it is hard to reflect. But I never wanted the interim period to be about me."

Life has been pretty full on for Brighton's interim boss Amy Merricks since October 31. That Monday morning Hope Powell, manager at the club for five years and former England coach from 1998-2013, stepped down following an 8-0 defeat to Tottenham. In a rollercoaster season for the Albion that felt the lowest point.

Since then Powell's former assistant has stepped in to the breach to help turn the campaign around. Merricks, 29, is the youngest manager currently in the WSL, a full seven years younger than next on the list Reading's Kelly Chambers. She did have one brief spell in charge as caretaker prior to Powell taking the job in 2017, but that was during pre-season, this time she was straight in at the deep end.

But the stand-in boss has quickly and quietly made the team more competitive. Brighton won 5-4 at high-flying West Ham in her first game and only a late collapse prevented them from beating Liverpool, eventually drawing 3-3.

Even when defeated by Manchester City earlier this month, the Seagulls were a far more competitive outfit than they had looked at the start of the season. There must have been times when her early weeks felt like baptism by fire, having to say goodbye to a friend and mentor, while also picking up a losing team of the canvas.

But, as Merricks explains, she has been able to shift the focus away from her and onto helping the players.

"The change happened on the Monday" Merricks told Mirror Football. "Then we were into another league game on the Sunday. So it was a really quick turnaround.

Merricks (left) with former Brighton manager Hope Powell (Getty Images)

"I think that provided a real direction for the team which we used. Although we then had an international break before our next game so it was hard to get a long period of time together. But everyone wants to learn and was eager to improve.

"It has been a really exciting opportunity and a different experience for me. I've learnt a lot about the people I work with."

Not only has Merricks had to navigate a turnaround in fortunes, she has also been trying to fit in studying for her UEFA Pro Licence at the same time. Those long days that every manager experiences, must feel even longer when you throw in the industry's highest qualification.

"I'm doing a lot of studying at the moment," Merricks said. "But I guess that puts me in a fortunate position as I'm doing a lot of analysis around the head coach role and what that looks like. I can test out the practices and my beliefs first hand.

"They are long days, but I'm grateful for the support I've had from tutors and mentors in the game. It also can give you different ideas you can consider throwing in.

"I've always wanted to stretch myself and be the best I can be, that hasn't changed. Of course it has been challenging, but it's a good challenge."

As a young coach with both a growing reputation and experience, there is a sense Merricks was always destined to be the boss rather than amongst the backroom team. She was prepared as anyone could wish to be, passing the League Managers Association Diploma in Football Management with a distinction in November 2020, whilst being mentored by someone who managed England for 15 years.

Amy Merricks watches on during her sides 3-1 defeat at Manchester City (Getty Images)

Yet the 29-year-old will be the first to tell you, there is nothing that can fully prepare you for being on your own in the hotseat. But the Brighton boss is also shrewd enough to lean on the advantages of working under Powell for the last five years.

"I'm fortunate I worked so closely with Hope (Powell)," added Merricks. "We spent the last five years building the foundations here. I believed in so much of what she did and the way she managed people.

"But nothing could prepare for me this. In the assistant position you're influencing decisions, when you are Head Coach you have the final call on all those decisions and are still thinking about them afterwards, at home hours later.

Brighton celebrate after Danielle Carter scores during the six-goal thriller with Liverpool. Merricks has managed to get the attack firing since taking charge. (Getty Images)

"It is completely different to the assistant position. But the best advice Hope gave me is that 'in the moment when you take the decision, is the right decision at that moment.

"Thankfully as well I had good relationships with players and staff already which helped and made it easier. Without them it wouldn't be possible."

Regardless of what happens on the south coast in the coming months, you would be a fool for thinking Merricks doesn't have a future at the top of the game. She has also previously coached in America prior to moving to Brighton and regardless of how long she has remaining as interim manager, Merricks has already made her mark on Brighton's season.

Her team went from scoring just two goals in their first five WSL games, which both came against Reading, to hitting eight in their first two under her stewardship.

Merricks says she is happy to the help the club as interim manager for as long as needed (Getty Images)

"We always had goals in us," said Merricks. "Even when Hope was in charge we were creating great opportunities and came away from games thinking 'we should have scored tow or three today'. But I really wanted to amplify the strengths of some the individuals in the team and we have great attacking talent.

"We've conceded too many and need to be harder to beat, but scoring goals lifts confidence quickly. The moment we scored the first against West Ham we knew they would keep coming.

"Now we need to kick on again after the Christmas break and make sure we're in the best position for our return to play. We're eager to kick on.

"A change (to the managerial position) will come I'm sure. But it's ongoing at the moment and I'm just here to support and do whatever the club and the team need."

Speculation has been rife ever since the day Powell left on who Brighton would decide on for a long-term replacement with the search set to continue into the New Year. They will do well to find a more determined candidate than Merricks.

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