Published 02 March 2022 5 min read
Women's U23

Mo Marley: Young players need time to express themselves and make mistakes

Written by:

Frank Smith

Hugely experienced coach discusses the importance of England WU23s and the development of young players

Mo Marley believes England women’s under-23 team is providing players with a great opportunity to express themselves as they strive to become first team regulars for club and country.

The FA introduced an under-23 side following the arrival of Sarina Wiegman as senior team head coach in September.

Marley, one of the most experienced coaches in women’s football, was asked to return to the FA on a consultancy basis and has overseen four matches for England WU23s in October, November and February.

The FA attempt to develop players from the Youth Development Phase (12 to 16-year-olds) to senior level via a Professional Development Phase, which is geared towards 17 to 21-year-olds.

But with the Covid pandemic hampering youth internationals in recent years, it means a number of young players have missed out on a large chunk of their Professional Development Phase.

Mo Marley has spent more than 25 years working with the FA as a player and coach
Mo Marley has spent more than 25 years working with the FA as a player and coach

It is one of several reasons why the FA were so keen to introduce an under-23 team.

Marley said: “It is important that we see what the next generation have coming through and preparing beyond the current senior players. You have got to make sure you have a rotation of new players coming through all the time.

“It is an action that we put into place because if you look at our 2002-born players, they have missed pretty much the whole PDP phase. They have jumped from the YDP (Youth Development Phase) straight to this age group. So it is a collection of everything.”

She continued: “We have a mix of older players who have been through the pathway and played in every age group but we have some younger players who because of Covid didn’t have the opportunity of a European Championship. So it is a balance of players across the whole PDP (Professional Development Phase). That is the purpose of the programme: to prepare them better for the future so that we can embed some of the information that is filtered down from what the seniors are doing.”

Marley played an integral role in the development of several players in the senior England squad, both as long-standing Everton manager and then during her time with the FA, when she worked as assistant manager under Hope Powell and oversaw the WU19 and WU20 sides.

A large proportion of the Lionesses squad made their senior debuts and became regulars in their teens but with women’s football going from strength-to-strength, it is getting harder for players to break into the first team at a young age.

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Marley said: “Obviously because the FA WSL is getting stronger and the pool of players in the FA WSL is bigger, it makes it a little bit harder for our younger players to make the quick transition [from youth football to senior football].

“If you look at our senior players now, a lot of them were playing senior football at 16 or 17 and that is unlikely to happen now because the league is stronger and the pool of players is so vast.

“The important thing now is that the players really work to establish themselves in the first team environment and if they take on board some of the information we have been working through, and if they can be consistent and play regularly, then they have an opportunity to express themselves and show that they can compete with the best players in the league.”

She continued: “I believe that when you are young, you need time to express yourself and time to make mistakes. Unfortunately that is not always the case in a week-by-week club environment, whereas in this environment [with the WU23s], we are praising execution and when they are trying to do things, and saying ‘it will come with more time’.

“That is the hard part of the club environment where teams are trying to win Champions Leagues and FA WSL titles. Whereas we are solely focussed on pure individual player development. That is the difference.

“We are saying to our players ‘be consistent and you have a chance of breaking into your first team and you need to embrace what you need to get better at and hopefully the bits we are working on will contribute to that’.

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