All eyes on England women's manager Hope Powell

By Jessica Creighton and Alistair MagowanBBC Sport

"I'm not easy," Hope Powell concedes when asked about her managerial style as she prepares to coach England at the Women's World Cup, which kicks off in Germany this weekend.

"The reason I say that is because my demands and my expectations are high. I want the players to do well."

Rachel Yankey, who was dropped for the 2009 European Championship, and former England striker Lianne Sanderson, who quit the national team aged 22 because she disagreed with Powell's methods, would probably confirm that notion.

But during her 13 years as England manager, Powell has revolutionised the women's game.

The 44-year-old has developed a youth structure to feed into the women's senior team, which saw the birth of centres of excellence and England youth teams.

She was also a key player in shaping the Women's Super League, which began in April, and has helped create the National Development Centre for the country's elite players.

High expectations appear to be a recurring theme in Powell's career. During her playing career, as a midfielder, she represented England from the age of 16, clocking up 66 caps and 35 goals and admits she was "a little bossy" on the pitch.

The London-raised coach became England's youngest ever national manager at 31 and was the first woman to earn a Uefa Pro Licence.

During her reign, Powell has led the team to three European Championships and two World Cups.

It was England's 2009 appearance in the European Championship final which, despite losing 6-2 to Germany, suggested Powell's hard-line management style was paying off. And it could yet pay dividends as England's momentum grows ahead of the World Cup in Germany.

"I do not think I am too demanding," Powell told BBC Sport. "If you want to raise standards you have to work hard at it.

"You have to empower the players, you have to let them make mistakes and allow them to work it out because they are the ones on the pitch.

"If you sow that seed about striving for excellence then you will improve. So I say 'let's be the best we can be, let's make that pass count.'"

While such a decisive style has yielded success on the pitch, culminating in a 2-1 victory over the world's top-ranked side United States in April, players like Yankey and Sanderson have been on the receiving end of Powell's unforgiving policies.

"I was shocked and disappointed that I wasn't at the European Championship," Yankey told BBC Sport. "But I don't pick the team, Hope does, and there's nothing I can do about it."

Having regained her place in the squad, the 31-year-old added: "It's a difficult job that Hope has to do. I knew that I wanted to continue and I never gave up playing for England or anything like that, although people did ask me about retirement."

Sanderson, meanwhile, was considered one of England's brightest talents but the 23-year-old has not played for her country since she walked away from the national team last year after a dispute with Powell.

A product of the Arsenal centre of excellence, Sanderson made her senior team debut aged only 14 and scored 51 goals in 36 appearances during her final season with the club before moving to Chelsea and then United States-based team Philadelphia Independence.

But under Powell she claimed that she was being unfairly treated after being left out of the team on several occasions.

"It's always been an uphill struggle for me with my national team," Sanderson told BBC Sport.

"I felt the [England set-up] wanted people like robots who would literally do everything they asked you to do."

That viewpoint is in contrast to some players in the current squad, who accept that although Powell can be tough, she values their input into key decisions.

England midfielder Jill Scott said Powell delays her entrance into the dressing room at half-time so that players can discuss and contribute to what needs improving before she arrives.

And Scott's Everton team-mate Fara Williams told BBC Sport: "Hope is strict. She wants us to be the best and to be the best there's a lot of sacrifices you have to make. Being a former player, she knows that.

"Hope certainly makes you know what rules are needed. She will praise you and she'll tell you when you are not on the top of your game. But if you can't take that, then you are playing at the wrong level."

Powell is the front runner to coach the Great Britain team at the 2012 London Olympics, so Sanderson will need to soften her stance if she wishes to be considered.

But away from picking and coaching the England team, Powell's overall contribution to English football means that whatever her role, she is likely to continue as one of the key figures in women's football.

"Hope has gradually introduced the younger players through the teams and that's why we have a greater depth," Football Association development director Sir Trevor Brooking told BBC Sport.

"Knowing Hope, she will be very tempted by being the coach for the Olympics but, after that, if we can capitalise on the expansion that is going on after two big tournaments hopefully we can see where the focus is for the women's game. It has great potential to go up another notch."

Not everyone may agree with her approach, but they appear to be in the minority.

Powell remains the single biggest influence on women's football in this country and the best could be still to come.

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