IT is a facet of football that the longer a losing run continues, the harder it is to break. Hearts’ new head coach Eva Olid was therefore delighted to win an unlikely first three points at Balmoral Stadium last Sunday.
Unlikely, because when her young side went 2-0 down against Aberdeen after only 20 minutes a fifth successive defeat looked inevitable. The home defence won’t look back fondly at the events which helped Hearts return to Edinburgh celebrating a 3-2 win but, as Olid points out, that isn’t her concern.
“We are so happy not just for the win, but because we won playing properly – that is our intention,” the Catalan said.
The 36-year-old, who has also coached in the United States, had to negotiate tough new Brexit regulations before receiving the work permit and visa required to start her job. It meant she missed the League Cup group games and lost invaluable time on the training ground.
Olid’s first experience of the Scottish weather wasn’t brilliant either. Invited by Fran Alonso to watch Celtic train early in 2020, she watched them beat Glasgow City in a monsoon at the K Park. The game was subsequently declared null and void when the pandemic intervened.
It was Alonso who informed her that Hearts were looking for a head coach. So, was she surprised to land a position that attracted a very high level of interest?
“No, because I believe in myself,” Olid replied. “I worked so hard for the interview to get this job. A lot of hours.
“I watched videos and analysed all the matches of the team in the last season. I showed them my analysis and my point of view on what the team needed to improve on.
“I have a document of years ago with my goals for future years. One of my ambitions was coaching in the USA, which I did. Another was to be coaching a team in a professional first division in 2021-22, and this happened.”
Olid has inherited a very young side. Five Hearts players – including last Sunday’s goalscorers, Amelie Birse (2) and Monica Forsyth – were named in the most recent Scotland under-19 squad.
In a recent interview given to a Spanish publication, the Uefa pro licence holder said her aim is for Hearts to avoid relegation, before moving on to loftier ambitions in 2022-23. She also highly praised the facilities available at Oriam.
“The players are young so there is a lot of work to do, but they can grow and they have a lot of potential,” Olid told me. “We are developing them in good facilities, which is important.
“If we keep improving next season we can be in the first five of the league.”
The bar for European women’s football is being raised in Olid’s native Catalonia, where Barcelona imperiously swept aside FA WSL leaders Arsenal in midweek. The scoreline in the Champions League group game was 4-1, and even that didn’t reflect the tournament holders’ manifest superiority.
“Futbol Club Barcelona have put investment behind the women’s team with the same idea of a modern game as the men’s team,” Olid pointed out. “This is a job of a lot of years, it hasn’t just happened in one or two.
“You need ten years to build a team like this. They are now putting money towards signing top European players as well, and this helps obviously.”
AND ANOTHER THING…
SCOTLAND under-19 head coach Pauline Hamill will need sharp eyesight when she takes her 20-player squad to the Netherlands this month for a three game Euro qualifying group involving the hosts, Austria and Ukraine.
Two of her players – Grace and Sarah Mitchell – are identical twins. Both are midfielders and, adding to Hamill’s visual challenge, have similar styles of play.
The sisters are from Australia and, according to the Scottish FA, qualify through their father. They moved to England to play for Bristol City, although not as yet for the first team.
“I got a call from Tanya Oxtoby, even before she was assisting Stuart McLaren,” Hamill reported. “She said she had two players in the academy who were both doing really well and were eligible to play for Scotland.”
Having studied footage, Hamill included the twins in a June training camp. “It wasn’t easy at the start, I can assure you,” she laughed.
“You could easily get them mixed up. One has a wee brown bit through her hair, so that is really helping me. They’re great kids, good on the ball and with brilliant attitudes.”