Vera Pauw ‘destroyed’ by Diane Caldwell’s criticism and ‘disappointed’ in Eileen Gleeson

Ex-Ireland manager hits out at former colleagues after tenure in role ended following 2023 World Cup

Former Ireland manager Vera Pauw said she was "destroyed" by Diane Caldwell's public criticism after she departed her role. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

In the close to eight months since the FAI opted not to renew her contract as Republic of Ireland manager there had been radio silence from Vera Pauw, her only response to that decision coming in an interview with RTÉ in its immediate aftermath. But the Dutch woman has finally had her say on what was a tumultuous final year in her time in charge here, both on a personal and professional level.

Speaking to Richie Sadlier on his Second Captains podcast, Episode, Pauw took aim at an array of characters she worked alongside in that spell, from players Diane Caldwell and Katie McCabe, to her successor Eileen Gleeson and FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill.

Pauw talked in depth about the emotional toll of being named in a report by the US National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) on misconduct by their coaches, coming, as it did, just a few months after she alleged that she had been a victim of rape and sexual assault three decades before by men who were employed within Dutch football. “I didn’t know how to live any more,” she said. “I thought, I can do two things: I can go to find help or I kill myself. I was not ready to kill myself, so I found help.”

Once again, Pauw vehemently denied the charges levelled against her in that NWSL report, which were chiefly about “weight-shaming” her Houston Dash players, describing it as “ridiculous”. But she said that “when people are accused of things, you’re then in the position of ‘there’s no smoke without fire’”. For that reason, she believes she will never again get a job in football “in the western world”.

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Pauw dates the beginning of the end of her time as Ireland coach to her interview with The Athletic shortly before the World Cup, when she again dismissed the NWSL allegations against her. There was palpable anger in the Ireland camp, not least from captain McCabe, about her engaging with the website on the issue so soon before the tournament, so much so Pauw said she knew going to Australia that her contract would not be renewed.

Vera Pauw after the World Cup game against Nigeria in Brisbane, in July 2023. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Pauw accused Hill of undermining her authority with her players by having “safeguarding” meetings with them following The Athletic piece, and claimed that a bond that had been “deep” with her squad was well and truly broken by the time they got to Australia.

“From the very first moment, nobody respected me,” Pauw said. “It was special to be at the World Cup, but I remember before the first game being on the pitch, I looked around and I thought, this is for yourself. You’ve done everything, always, your whole life for others. This is for yourself.” And she threw a sizeable barb at her players. “I thought, do the best you can, make sure they play their best game ever, keep it simple, because they cannot grasp more than the simple things.”

Pauw also recalled McCabe’s end of tournament speech to the players and staff, who she thanked. Did she mention her manager by name? “Not specifically. I felt it. But I felt so much already during the tournament.” What stung, too, was the players’ eagerness to leave the post-tournament gathering to go off and do their own thing. “They just left to go out without any decency. So that was it. You can imagine how I felt at that moment. I couldn’t be bothered any more.”

Pauw said she has since patched up her differences with McCabe after two hour-long conversations by phone. “I hope that there will be a moment when I will have friends again in Ireland. Katie said, ‘Vera, please don’t be a stranger’. I said, ‘Katie, I hope that I will not be a stranger, because right now I feel I am a stranger to the team.’”

The then-Ireland manager Vera Pauw and Katie McCabe in a training session in Brisbane during the World Cup last year. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Differences with Caldwell might, though, be irreparable. Back in September, the defender excoriated Pauw’s time in charge of Ireland, claiming that the team’s achievements were “in spite of” and not because of her.

Pauw was, she said, left feeling “destroyed” by Caldwell’s remarks which was “probably everything that she wanted me to feel”. “I felt sorry for her that she needed to do this,” Pauw said. She was “disappointed” in Eileen Gleeson, her former assistant, for saying that Caldwell had the right to express her opinion. If one of her players had spoken like that about her previous manager, Pauw would, she said, have told her “you can go up to your room, pack your bag and leave the camp”. “I was disappointed [in Gleeson] because two weeks earlier, we said nothing comes between us, we love each other.”

Pauw is, she said, in “very intense therapy”, her hope is that she will “find the reason to enjoy life again”. She could only sleep without the aid of pills two weeks ago. “I’m deliberately hurt so much. Why do people do that? Why do they harm me?”

“Ireland was my safe haven. The whole of the country was standing up for me, I was thrown into a warm bath of love by the people. I have received so many messages from the people in Ireland,” Pauw said.

“I got one two weeks ago from a mother, her 10-year-old daughter said ‘Mum, I miss Vera so much.’ That warms me so much. It gives me hope for the future. I feel that life is offering me sunshine again. Somehow I will find my way.”

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times