New West Ham United manager Olli Harder believes the Barclays FA Women’s Super League is on the cusp of becoming the biggest female football league in the world.
The New Zealander was confirmed as the new manager of the women’s team over the festive break and took his first training session this week.
Despite being only 34 years old, Harder has plenty of coaching under his belt with jobs in the men’s and women’s game, as well as experience of the collegiate system.
Coaching in many different countries including New Zealand, England, the USA, China and Norway is something Harder is proud of, but returning to England and working at a prestigious club was always an ambition.
“Working in England has always been a goal of mine in terms of going back and working in a position with a club like West Ham,” Harder explained.
“A massive club, a big club, a prestigious club. That's been something that's always been on my to do list.
“I'm a very young manager, but I have been in the game a long time. This will be my 14th year now as a professional coach, so for me, it's one of those things I've always wanted to do.
“When West Ham presented the opportunity to me, it was almost a no brainer.
“To the WSL itself, I think everybody is realising where the league is going.
“In terms of America has always been the flagship organisation when it comes to the women’s game but I really feel that England over the next year, two years, three years is going to take over as the biggest in the world when it comes to the women’s game.”
Growing up with German parents in New Zealand, playing football was a big part of Harder’s childhood.
He spent the last five years in Norway working as the Under-23s assistant manager, head coach of top-flight women’s side Klepp IL and most recently as assistant manager at Sandnes Ulf.
West Ham are currently tenth in the WSL with only two wins to their name, but Harder hopes he can push the club forward and aims to beat the top clubs.
“I think every club has to think like that if we're going to push and progress the game forward, the women's game as a whole,” he said.
“It's still young enough to where there is what you might call an established top three and obviously, you’ve got four now with Man United sort of coming in.
“But I think it's important for every club, whether it's West Ham or any other club to set their sights high, because it's important to push the game forward.
“If we set ourselves with a low standard or a low bar. I think that's doing a disservice to the women's game.”
Harder’s first game in charge was due to be against reigning FA Cup champions Manchester City, but the fixture was postponed due to Gareth Taylor’s side not being able to meet the minimum squad quota of 14 players.
There’s been growing anger amongst WSL fans with players having travelled abroad over the festive break to go on holiday, despite the coronavirus pandemic.
But the West Ham boss was not frustrated about the situation and hopes his side can use it as an opportunity to be more prepared for their next game. Harder added: “When we talk about the COVID situation, there’s nothing to do. It's all about what we can control.
“So, I think mindset wise is all about what we can control. Can we train to the best of our ability, when we're on a pitch?
“Can we behave and act and play in a way that's befitting of West Ham? That’s the sort of the main mindset that I'm looking for.
“We’re disappointed because we want to play the game, but at the end of the day it also presents an opportunity for myself to spend a little more time with the girls.
“It just means we shifted our focus immediately. We knew we weren’t playing, so it was shifting our focus to the next match which fingers crossed is Spurs and then we just crack on with it.”