If we told you that a football manager who lifted the World Cup and won Olympic gold on home soil had just passed away, you’d probably ask why nobody in the media seems to be talking about it.
In Europe, at least, the death of former US Women’s National Soccer Team coach Tony DiCicco has largely flown under the radar – but that’s less an indictment on his legacy in the game than it is the sad reality that female sports receive only a fraction of the coverage enjoyed by their male counterparts.
Pioneer. Champion. Legend.
— U.S. Soccer WNT (@ussoccer_wnt) June 20, 2017
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DiCicco was appointed US coach in 1994, after a low-key playing career in which he made just the one appearance for the men’s national side (back before the MLS, or Beckham-mania, began to really popularise the sport State-side). Having hung up his boots, he quickly turned his attention to coaching, and supplemented his income with teaching work while he waited for his career to take off.
After leading his country – at the time, the holders – to a respectable third placed finish in the 1995 World Cup, the Connecticut native was then faced with the not inconsiderable task of securing Olympic gold at the Atlanta Summer Games in 1996 – the first time women’s football was contested on the oldest stage in all of sport.
When you factor in America’s unrivalled record at the Olympics – coupled with the immense interest in its women’s team (it’s probably the only country on earth where the media treats both genders equally) – that’s a job that carries a huge amount of pressure. DiCicco delivered, though, his side running out 2-1 victors in a close-fought final against China in a packed Sanford Stadium.
Getting to the top is supposed to be the easy part though – and for DiCicco’s side to cement their status as the dominant force in women’s football, they needed to lift the big one three years later, when another home soil tournament rolled into town – this time the World Cup in 1999.
Whilst the squad was liberally sprinkled with stars like Mia Hamm – one of the all-time great female footballers – as well as promising up-and-comers such as Christie Pearce (who would go onto become 300-cap veteran) plotting their route to the trophy wasn’t so straight-forward. The team’s mettle hadn’t really been tested in the three years since Atlanta, given that they qualified automatically as the host nation, and they were drawn against Germany, and then Brazil, in the quarter and semi-final stage respectively.
In the final, they were paired, once again, with China. The familiar foes played out a goalless draw before the US women held their nerve in a tense penalty shoot-out, the winning kick of which sparked jubilant celebrations (not least from penalty taker Brandi Chastain).
All said, the fact that they emerged victorious – and gave the buoyant home fans yet another reason to adore their all-conquering women team (probably going some way to inspire the current crop to seriously pursue the sport) – can’t be attributed solely to great players. DiCicco earn’t his stripes (and stars), and the touching tributes his ex-players have been queuing up to deliver are testament to that.