Spartans manager Debbi McCulloch in dreamland after "surreal" experience on the FIFA mentoring programme

From visiting four of Europe’s major cities in a week to having a dinner sitting next to Canadian manager Beverly Priestman, Spartans manager Debbi McCulloch reflects on “one of the best experiences of her life” on the FIFA mentoring programme.
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While the end of the season is often seen as a time for players and staff to finally rest after a long campaign for McCulloch, this couldn’t have been further away from the truth. Just hours after Spartans finished their 2022/23 season against Glasgow Women, the manager found herself in an airport at 4am ready to catch a flight to Lisbon to experience a programme many could only dream of. Part of 18-month FIFA mentoring programme, McCulloch is one of 20 lucky coaches that have the opportunity to learn from some of the best managers in the women’s game.

“It was an opportunity that I wasn’t going to turn down,” she told the Edinburgh Evening News. “You've just got to find energy from somewhere. Probably not ideal in the sense that you just really kind of want to rest and reflect however, when you have got that opportunity you certainly aren’t going to say no to it.

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“I got to see different part of the world and work with coaches that have won World Cups and won gold medals at the Olympics. To be back in the room with the mentors, mentees and that level of experience is always a great privilege and a really beneficial experience for myself and development opportunities. We learn so much in these three, four days that we're together, and it's just fantastic to be able to open up my mindset and knowledge and try to learn as much as I can from people that have great experience at the highest level.”

The programme is designed to help give female coaches like McCulloch new experiences, knowledge and skills to help further their managerial abilities. After launching in 2018, the Spartans manager started the course in May 2022 and has already visited Costa Rica last year as part of the course. With multiple world-class managers right at her fingertips as well as the opportunity to visit some of the most iconic cities in the world, McCulloch cannot get over how surreal the entire experience is.

“The weather was really good we were about 20 minutes outside Lisbon and the Portuguese FA Headquarters, where their men’s, women's and youth teams train,” McCulloch added. “A fantastic facility. I've never seen anything like in terms of the quality of the grass pitches, the quality of equipment and facilities that they have available. There were a couple of hotels as well, we were staying there on-site for the four days. It was certainly a whirlwind few days.

“To visit all these countries is fantastic. If it was here at Spartans, the experience would still be exactly the same because you have international managers like Anna Signeul, Beverly Priestman, the Canadian manager, Corinne Diacre, the ex-French manager as well as the USA manager as well. They're going to a World Cup in like 60 days, they're given up their time to be here. Everyone is so friendly, everyone is so engaging, you can literally just talk about anything, and just try to gain a level of understanding of what it really takes at that level. It's fascinating, absolutely fascinating. It’s a dream come true that all these people that you see standing on the touchline on the TV, you're actually sitting next to them in a room, or you're sitting having dinner with them. It's extremely surreal.

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“Even like Priestman who was assistant manager with Phil Neville for the Lionesses and then went to Canada and won gold with them. We had an official dinner last Thursday, in May in Lisbon. I was sitting beside Priestman and was just to be able to ask her how she is preparing for the World Cup. The little details and ideas that you can share and talk about it’s unimaginable. Impostor syndrome does kick in, everyone is just so open and friendly that. It's become a tight-knit group of 20 mentors and 20 mentees, it is one of the best experiences of my life.”

Debbi McCulloch has been on the FIFA mentoring programme since May 2022. Credit: Spartans Women FacebookDebbi McCulloch has been on the FIFA mentoring programme since May 2022. Credit: Spartans Women Facebook
Debbi McCulloch has been on the FIFA mentoring programme since May 2022. Credit: Spartans Women Facebook

After a 20-hour trip back with stop-offs in Madrid and Amsterdam, McCulloch can now look forward to meeting up with her mentor, Joe Montemurro. The Juventus manager guided the Italian giants to second place in Serie A qualifying for the Champions League. Now the season has finished, Montermurro is due to come to Edinburgh in the coming months as the programme reaches its final stages. McCulloch cannot wait to meet up with the Australian with the Spartans manager also set to travel to Turin and tick off another magnificent city.

“The programme 18-month programme concludes in November,” McCulloch explained. “The two destinations that are being discussed are either New Mexico City or Morocco for the final part of the mentorship programme. Between now and November I'll visit Juventus in Turin and the head coach Joe Montemurro will visit us here at Spartans. I'm just actually about to on call with him just to catch up. Unfortunately, he couldn't make it to Lisbon due to his Juventus commitments because they had their final game at that weekend. There's plenty of content still to be undertaken which I'm really, really looking forward to. Hopefully, I can just embrace that opportunity and learn as much as I can during that period.”

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