Robert Vilahamn: “I really want to have a home game because I love to play in front of our fans”

Ahead of Tottenham Hotspur hosting Leicester City in the Women’s Super League at the weekend, Robert Vilahamn previewed the game, declaring to the media that he has ‘full focus on the league game on Sunday.’

The Lilywhites have just been drawn at home to the Foxes in the FA Cup semi-final, and so naturally there is a lot of discussion as to this being a dress rehearsal ahead of that tie. Vilahamn responded to the media saying: ‘I think you can see it like a really good preparation for the FA Cup if you want to look at it the FA Cup way because you’re going to practice something for that big game. But on the other hand, it’s actually competition in Women’s Super League with a really important game because they can actually come above us in the table.

‘I know the players, they want to compete and be better every day, and they want to show that they’re going to play on Sunday and perform in that game – so I’m really clear that we’re going to do a good performance and have full focus on the league game on Sunday, and then we’ll take the FA Cup in the future.

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Vilahamn was announced as the head coach of Tottenham Hotspur Women ahead of the 2023/24 WSL season, and has managed to lead the team to a position that sees them just one step away from Wembley in his first season. When asked about the history that could be made under his stewardship, he responded: ‘I think that’s the reason I wanted to come to this club, because you see this really big club with a lot of potential and the women’s team and what they have done to establish themselves in the Women’s Super League and go into the titles, and now I’m part of that.

‘I feel like that’s a really fun job for me and now when we reach the point where we are actually getting closer to Wembley and make sure that we fight for a title, that’s amazing. It also shows the power of this club, I would say. It shows that we are already there, and the future looks bright.

The 41-year-old said he ‘hopes’ the game can be played at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium: ‘I really want to have a home game because I love to play in front of our fans.

‘Of course, I hope that we can play it at the big stadium, so we’re looking into that and hopefully we can find ways to make that happen, but it’s not on my desk right now, but who knows, right?

The Spurs manager was happy with Leicester City being the only obstacle between his side and playing at Wembley saying: ‘If you look at those three teams, of course, Man Utd and Chelsea are higher up in the table than Leicester, so if you look at it one way, yes, it’s a good draw, and if you ask Leicester, they will probably say it’s a great draw to play against Tottenham.

‘I think it’s a fair, fair opponent, right? But it’s going to be fun. I’m really looking forward to this great chance to play against them in the semi-final, and hopefully we’re going to reach the final because we want to be there for our fans and for this club.

Tottenham currently occupy sixth place in the WSL table: three points ahead of Leicester, six points behind Liverpool, and level on games played with the two. Vilahamn discussed the mid-table teams saying: ‘I think Leicester and Liverpool are doing a good tactical thing to win games right now and they are actually winning games that way.

‘The way we try to build ourselves and how to play and everything, it takes more time, so I think even if we perhaps don’t come above them at the table this year, I’m quite sure that we’re building a ground for our game to make sure we beat them quite good next year.

‘That’s my plan; to make sure we build something so then next year, if they keep doing what they’re doing, we’re going to beat them because we’re going to be so good on the ball. We’re going to have so good players that can handle that, but right now we actually compete with them because we have different strategies and they’re doing it very well.

‘But it’s a part of the process and I’m not scared of losing against them right now because I know when we play like this and when we’re going to develop the players, we’re going to beat them next year or the year after that, so it’s more like the bigger picture and make sure we reach there with the identity and how we play instead of just going for next and hope that we can finish fifth.

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With attention then turned to his squad, Vilahamn provided an injury update: ‘Drew [Spence] is back in training from her illness, so she’s trained well today.

‘Molly [Bartrip] was back at the training ground today, so she’s taken a step from her illness. We have to wait to see to the Saturday training because if we know that she can play or not, otherwise we look strong and healthy.

Becky Spencer, Barbora Votikova and Eleanor Heeps, are all incredible talents at Tottenham Hotspur and Vilahamn has the challenge every week of deciding who to start. He stated: ‘The training is amazing because we have three good goalkeepers who’s competing. My job is to pick a player who you know, sometimes people can say I’m doing the right stuff and some people can say that I’m doing the wrong stuff, but I’m just trying to pick the right player to win the game and I just think, you saw Becky the other game – she was totally brilliant, and you can see her in the penalty shootout.

‘You saw Bara [Votikova] against Arsenal at the big stadium, so both of them are very cool goalkeepers who can handle it so who knows who’s playing or not, but right now, Becky was amazing and of course, she has a great chance to play on Sunday again.

He then praised Amanda Nilden who joined the North London side in January: ‘I’ve followed her for a few years because I had a left-back in Hacken who competed against her in the national team and the national team coach always picked her instead of my left-back in Hacken, but now I signed this left-back instead and I love working with her.

‘She’s very skilful in many scenarios, but she’s still very young as well and there’s more potential in her so I think she gives us a left foot in the build-up – we didn’t have that.’

‘I like to have those angles with the left-footed left-back. I think also you can see that she’s taking steps in the attacking football because we know that she’s good defensively, but I know that she can do these overlaps and do the crosses as well and I also see that when you see the attitude in this penalty shootout, when she does that, that shows that’s a cool girl who can do that in that moment – so that’s the players I love to work with, with that passion, with that coolness.

‘I just love working with her and there’s a plan for her to stay in the future as well, of course, so hopefully we do that. I’m quite sure she’s going to stay the next year.

Ash Neville’s return also prompted the Swedish-born manager to say: ‘I think some people like to defend and just protect. I think Ash is one of those who likes to defend and win the ball so she’s so good one against one to actually try to win the ball against opponents.

‘And then I think she’s a good ball carrier. She’s a good, you know, attacking face as well player, and also even if she does a little bit of a mistake with their score, their goal, she just keeps going the whole game and just get back to the game and is brilliant after that, and those players are the players I want to love and work with because then you know that they don’t really affect them – if they do a mistake, they just keep going, and when you have those role models for the other players, they just take after them.

Another important part of Tottenham’s squad this season has been Amy James-Turner. She may not have seen the minutes she would have liked this season, but when given the opportunity, she is impressing, and was crucial in Spurs’ progression to the semi-final of the FA Cup with the winning penalty conversion against Manchester City.

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Vilahamn said: ‘I had a meeting with her today actually and just told her how I think to work with her, how professional she is, how she’s been so good for me as a coach, because she hasn’t played all the time and she has handled that in a so professional way.

‘She had an injury the first day of training when I arrived here. She was gone for like six, seven weeks, which made Luana play herself into the team – and then I kept going with her.’

‘Then she came back and trained very well, and she didn’t get the chance, and then when she came into the North London Derby, and we were amazing that game, she took over that spot.’

‘After that, she’s just been amazing in training, on the field. I think she plays the best football I have seen her play and with a lot of self-confidence: good on the ball, good in the duels, and then also like with this calmness in the penalty shootout – I was so impressed by her. I’m just full of cheering for her.

The media posed a question to Vilahamn about the fitness of his squad and how they have improved since the start of the season. He replied: ‘I actually have proof that they are much fitter now because we do the testing from the beginning of the season, in the middle of the season, Christmas break, and we see all the paragraphs, all the meters is that they’re getting more fit in the gym.

‘They’re breaking the records in maximum speed. They are more sprint meters and everything, so we follow that in a good way.

‘And the physical performance team is doing amazing stuff with individually make them be quicker, faster, be able to run more.

He went on to say: ‘I think the Man City was a really good game because we could work on a strategy. We knew how Man City play. We had practiced that three times so we could find ways so the players knew when to run, when to press so I think it was a mixture of a really good analyst team, made sure that they knew the picture, the physical performance team made sure that they were strong enough, and then we just boosted them with a lot of energy and the play starting was great.

Tottenham Hotspur host Leicester City in the Women’s Super League on Sunday for a 2pm kick-off at Brisbane Road. A win for the Foxes could see them go above the Lilywhites, but a win for Vilahamn’s side could see them temporarily close the gap between themselves and Liverpool to just three points.