Lydia Bedford replaced Jonathan Morgan as Leicester Women manager; The Foxes are bottom of the WSL with no points; Watch Arsenal Women vs Leicester Women live on Sky Sports Football from 6.30pm on Sunday; kick-off 6.45pm
Football journalist
Sunday 12 December 2021 19:15, UK
It’s been a whirlwind few weeks for Lydia Bedford. She has gone from England Women youth team coach to Leicester Women manager and going straight into the job has meant little time to explore the city with her dog, Baxter.
“Last week, I stayed in a hotel on the other side of the city and I stopped at Fosse Park, but other than that, not really,” she tells Sky Sports‘ Charlotte Marsh.
“It’s been quite long days this week trying to get ahead with the three games we’ve got next week, there’s been a lot to get through so over time, I imagine I’ll explore it more.
“The only bit I’ve explored really is the canal, which is just outside the training centre. I walk Baxter there every morning for an hour before I come in at 8am, so that’s the bit I know the most. It’s been pretty dark when I’ve been down there so I can’t say how nice it is.”
The WSL clubs have a knack for seeking out talented coaches lesser known in the UK and bringing them in – Jonas Eidevall at Arsenal and Olli Harder at West Ham are two that spring to mind.
While Bedford has not worked aboard, she has extensive experience coaching with the England girls youth teams. She was most recently lead coach for the U17s, as well as overseeing the development of other ages groups, where she has developed qualities and techniques to help in her first senior role.
She says: “I got into coaching when I was at university, I hadn’t played or coached very much before that point.
“I went to uni to be a PE teacher, so I went to Brunel with the aim of qualifying in four years and I thought that would be a lifelong career. By the time I graduated, I had my B Licence, I was coaching at the Middlesex girls centre of excellence with their U17s, I was working at Barnet Ladies in the evenings with the senior set-up and I started teaching as well.
“In 2014, I passed my A Licence and luckily, some jobs came out at the FA a few weeks later to do a role that was a regional one over in the east of England and allowed me to be a coach with a national age group.
“I moved to the east of England, which was a bit of a jump after west London, and spent seven years at the FA working across different age groups. After two years, I left the regional role and became a head coach of many different age groups. It’s been great and now I’m here.
“Working with England teams gives you some great preparations in terms of running MDTs [multidisciplinary teams], being a leader off and on the pitch, setting the culture and environment.
“In terms of the coaching, they might be youth players, but they’re the best youth players in the country so the tempo and standards they can set are very good. Club football has been something I’ve looked at for a while and it was probably about biding my time and finding a club that felt right.
“When this opportunity came, which was very much out of the blue, with all things weighed up, it seemed like a great opportunity to throw myself in and have the opportunity to work with the team and climb the table this season and avoid relegation.
“I feel like there are things I’ve taken from teaching that have made me a better football coach, like the way you manage people and get the best out of them. I think there are a lot of similarities in working with youth player and senior players in that sense.
“I think my ability to relate to people and understand them as individuals and get the best out of them is there regardless of their age. The way you interact with them is probably slightly different based on their age, but at the crux of it, everyone wants to feel cared for, that you’re taking an interest in them and you want to develop them and get the best out of them.
“I firmly believe you can do that, it doesn’t matter what age you’re working with. It’s a quality that every coach needs and it’s something that I’ve had a lot of opportunities to develop with England. I would hope you could pick up the phone to many a youth player I’ve worked with and the characteristics I’ve spoken of are the ones I’ve demonstrated consistently. Now, it’s a chance to do it with a slightly different bracket of players.”
Bedford steps in during a tricky spell at Leicester. After promotion from the Women’s Championship last season under Jonathan Morgan, they are yet to win any points in their first WSL campaign. It’s a situation she is tasked with turning around.
“At the moment, the players need consistency and I think that’s something Brett [Hills] and I can bring them. They’ve had some great performances over the last few games, in the Everton and Brighton league games, it’s been the last ten or 15 minutes which have been the nemeses.
“But actually, some of the principles we’ve executed in those games have been good and you can start seeing in those performances, the confidence is growing. That probably showed in the United game at the weekend [winning on penalties in the Women’s League Cup] where they got what they deserved in the end in terms of their resilience.
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“I know I can’t walk in and make immediate changes, I’ve got to drop in little subtle bits that will help them. I think they’ve got great qualities out of possession that they’ve shown over the previous few games.
“At this moment in time, I’m just trying to increase their confidence, what they’re capable of doing with the ball and giving them the belief that they can build. Scoring two goals at the weekend has already helped that and I’m helping it along a little further.”
Bedford will have the right facilities at her disposal too. Leicester spend most of their week at the former men’s training ground on Belvoir Drive which retains an incredibly impressive set-up and play their home matches at the King Power Stadium.
She said: “I’ve travelled to a lot of WSL training grounds as part of my previous role, visiting players from an England perspective. I hadn’t actually been to this training ground since I walked in last Wednesday morning and I’ve been blown away by it if I’m totally honest.
“When I was shown around on the first morning and I saw how many pitches are available – this is a Premier League men’s training ground that we are now utilising on a day-to-day basis. There’s so much space and facilities for the girls, literally the only thing we don’t have is a swimming pool.
“We have the best in terms of the forms of recovery, nutrition and facilities for the girls to perform. It’s also unique that we’ve got the pick of it whenever we like throughout the day. I’m not trying to bargain with someone else and there’s not a hierarchy of who can use it and I’m really enjoying that. It gives me the best platform to give the girls what they need because I’m not hitting any barriers with what facilities I need to help them along the way.”
Although taking on a first senior role may be daunting for some, Bedford will have plenty of experience at her disposal.
Emile Heskey was placed in interim charge after Morgan’s departure – winning on penalties against Manchester United Women in the Women’s League Cup on Sunday – and will continue in his role of head of women’s football development. Bedford has also brought in Brent Hills, who also had a 15-year association with the FA and played a huge part in the development of England Women’s football.
“They’re both in different ways going to help us develop this programme,” Bedford explained.
“Brent from a coaching perspective, on the grass and tactically is very strong. Already, it’s been a real breath of fresh air this week to sit and plan training sessions with him in detail and really think about how we can dip into every part of training and the messages we want.
“We can’t come in and make wholesale changes to how they play, it’s just about influence we feel we can make quick gains on. He’s been brilliant in supporting me at doing that and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to bring him in here with me because he’s someone I have a lot of respect for and worked with over a number of years and I know he’s going to be a real support mechanism behind me this season going forward.
“With Emile, his experience as an ambassador for the club speaks for itself and he brings a lot of experience from his playing days. As he moves into this role of driving women’s football development for Leicester, he’s a big support for me as we move forward in terms of the club and the structure and what we’re trying to build.
“I think he’ll be helping us both on and off the pitch with the development of the club that we’re all aligned and moving in the same direction. I’m excited to work with him and bring the experiences he’s had previously with mine and try to help the club go forward.”
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They say there are no easy games in the WSL, but they don’t come much tougher than facing league leaders Arsenal in your first game, live in front of the Sky Sports cameras. The Gunners have lost their last two games against Chelsea Women in the FA Cup final and Barcelona Women in the Champions League, but remain unbeaten in the WSL.
“From Arsenal’s perspective, their league form speaks for itself,” Bedford said of the task ahead.
“They’re unbeaten and they’re a great side and we won’t underestimate that whatsoever. Even with the performance we put in last weekend, we’re realistic as a squad going into this weekend’s game.
“But for us, it’s about consistency so in terms of what we’re focusing on, it’s very much about balance and what qualities we want to develop as a team that are going to help us pick up points this season. If we can go into this weekend and display consistency over our performance and build that, I think that helps moving into the January window.
“For the girls, it’s very much a message of ‘know your role, let’s go out and execute it, let’s be diligent and resilient’ and let’s see how we approach the game and what we get out of it.
“This week, it’s been great just to be on the training pitch, working with the girls and helping them in terms of their preparations for Arsenal this weekend. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, lots to take on board all in one go, but I think it’s ran pretty smoothly and I’m pleased with their preparations so far.”
Watch Arsenal Women vs Leicester Women in the Women’s Super League live on Sky Sports Football from 6.30pm on Sunday; kick-off 6.45pm.
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