Named best coach of a national women’s team at the CAF Awards, the coach of the South Africa’s Banyana Banyana is one of the few internationally recognized African women. At the microphone of FIFA.com, Desiree Ellis talks about her experiences, the Women’s World Cup, and the upheavals she has witnessed over time during her career.
Mrs. Ellis, what does your second consecutive title of African Coach for Women’s Football remind you of?
That’s wonderful. Winning once is already sublime, but doing it a second time is very special. This shows that your team has managed to maintain a high standard. It is a collective sport, and we, the staff and the players, are proud to give priority to the team. So I am proud, but above all, I am very grateful.
When you think about your difficult past, do you take into account the good times like the individual trophies or the qualification for the World Cup?
In those moments, you think about all the sacrifices you have made for yourself and how your life has changed. My dream became reality. The World Cup is the latest example. You enter the field, you see the flag of South Africa fluttering, you sing the national anthem … It was incredible. This is something that I find it hard to describe. As a player, I dreamed of participating in these major tournaments, but I never had the chance to qualify. I knew the Rio Olympic Games in 2016 as assistant coach of Vera Pauw. But there is nothing comparable to the World Cup. The victory in the semi-final of the African Cup of Nations which qualifies us gave us incredible feelings. The players cried, hugged, prayed… Everyone was so happy. But the best moment was when we returned to South Africa and the crowd was waiting for us to congratulate and party with us. My throat was tight because that’s when I realized the extent of what we had done. I still remember a little girl who said: « I want to be there in 2023 ». I think several little girls have started dreaming about it.
What did you think of your World Cup from a sporting point of view?
I don’t have to complain because the players have given everything on the pitch and a coach cannot ask for more. We showed what we could do, at times, as in the first period against Spain. But we have to be more regular. It was our first World Cup, remember, and I’m sure the players will have gained experience and will be better prepared for 2023 if we manage to qualify.
Is non-qualification for the Olympic Games seen as a step backwards?
It was unexpected. If qualifying for the World Cup was our highlight last year, we have hit rock bottom with this defeat against Botswana and non-qualification for the Olympics. We missed so many chances in both games and we had to go on penalties. It was a dark day for South African women’s football because we know the importance of the Olympic Games to continue to progress. I can only hope that the pain of this experience motivates the players to qualify for the next World Cup.
When you see South Africans playing abroad today, do you measure the progress made in relation to your playing career?
It’s great. Each generation is trying to improve the lives of the next generations, and women’s football has greatly improved, no doubt. But we don’t want to rest on our laurels because there are so many other efforts to be made. We are impatient and we want women’s football to evolve as quickly as possible. Africa in particular needs to do more if it is to keep pace with other continents. But when I think back to the time when I was playing, the progress made is substantial. I hope this is just the start.