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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Alan Campbell

Gleeson exit opens door to return to continuity in Leanne Ross at Glasgow City

AS Leanne Ross reminded me on Thursday, she played under very few head coaches during her spectacularly successful and long playing career. The 41-year-old will have that responsibilty herself today when Glasgow City host Hamilton Accies in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup.

Ross, who got an early Christmas present when confirmation of her UEFA A-Licence coaching certificate came through last month, joined City from Newburgh Ladies in 2007. She was signed by Peter Caulfield and played under only two more head coaches before retiring in 2021 – Eddie Wolecki Black (2011) and Scott Booth (2015).

At Scotland level there was just one. All of her 135 games between 2006 and 2017 (the Scottish FA lists 133 but two have been missed out) came during Anna Signeul’s 12-year term.

There seems little doubt that the only player to have featured in all of City’s 14-in-a-row titles will be their permanent head coach at some point. She was Grant Scott’s assistant when he took interim charge of the side at the start of last season, and that continued when Eileen Gleeson was named as Booth’s permanent

successor in October, 2021.

Gleeson has now gone and the former Republic of Ireland No.2 will be remembered as the first City head coach since 2003 to fail to win a trophy. She hadn’t had time to settle in ahead of an abject 2021/22 League Cup final loss to Celtic, but there was no such excuse for another poor display in the subsequent Scottish Cup final – Celtic winning 3-2 after extra-time despite being reduced to 10 players for most of the game.

Nevertheless, City were (and still are) top of the league when Gleeson departed at the start of the winter hiatus. The explanation that she had been recalled from a two-year career break by her employer, Dublin City Council, continues to raise eyebrows.

The newly created, and yet to be filled, FAI job of head of women’s football may provide an answer. There are also, given the manner of the departure, inevitable rumours that Gleeson did not enjoy the full support of the dressing room.

Ross, however, doesn’t believe the first trophyless season since 2003 was necessarily that much of a shock to City’s normally purring system.

“The standard of the game is improving across the board in this league and this country,” the former captain pointed out. “The fact that it’s now more difficult to win the league and the cup competitions is a great thing.

“It was becoming more and more difficult each year to keep winning trophies. I don’t think the record [14-in-a-row] we set will ever be beaten.”

Nobody in the City hierarchy was available last week to discuss what plans the club has to replace Gleeson. The job has not been advertised, which might point in the direction of Ross, but she appeared to rule herself out when we spoke on Thursday.

“This club means a lot to me, but I don’t have the qualifications it expects at the moment,” the interim appointee said. “It’s maybe a longer-term plan for me to be in this role.”

I HAVE been struck by the favourable responses to my inquiries about Mick McArdle, who was recently named as the Scottish FA’s first girls’ and women’s performance director. Our paths have never crossed, but people I trust in the game speak very highly of his qualities.

McArdle’s length of notice at St Mirren, where he is head of coaching, has still to be finalised, but he is expected to start in the new role soon. Although he came into football from a background in construction and engineering, he has a UEFA pro licence and other qualifications which contribute to a cerebral and people-centred approach.

As mentioned here before, the arrival of somebody in the post cannot come soon enough. There has been no focused work on youth development at national level since Signeul left the SFA in 2017, and the outcomes are all too painfully obvious to see.

Results at youth international level are poor, while the top clubs are increasingly bringing in players from other countries to fill their squads.

The only way Scotland can hope to compete internationally is by being smarter and more innovative than similar-sized nations. That, and everybody pulling together towards a common aim. I’m told Pedro Martinez Losa, who oversees the SFA’s women’s strategy and performance vision, will start to spend more time in Scotland liaising with the clubs and working with McArdle to ensure a more coherent and strategic future approach. It’s badly needed.

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