This year’s Homeless World Cup in Cardiff has seen Austria bring a women’s team to compete for the first time.
And as far as the team is concerned, it seems that in coach Emily Cancienne they have the best possible person to lead the team in their inaugural competition participation.
That’s because the 27-year-old American is a professional player who plays in the Austrian Frauenliga with Sturm Graz and will soon compete in Champions League qualification for her club side against Sporting Braga, Riga FS and Apollon Limassol in Riga.
So how did a player brought up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and who had never left the USA until she finished university, end up coaching the Austrian women’s team in Cardiff?
“I finished my studies in Louisiana and two months later I decided I need to get out of the little town and go see the world. A friend of mine was playing professional football in Serbia and gave me a contact to Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia. And then in August of 2014 I left my home country for the first time and I went to Croatia, where I played for a year for Zagreb,” she said.
“Then I had an opportunity to go and play for Sturm Graz in Austria and I’ve been there since 2015. And after the migrant crisis in 2017 I wanted to do something, I wanted to help out. So I got in touch with the manager of the Austrian street football project.
At first I was just the ambassador for the women’s team and was using the platform of Sturm Graz to just try and push them a little bit. Then last summer we had the Homeless World Cup European Street Football Festival in Graz and I was asked if I wanted to be the trainer.
“I got bitten by the bug and I’m loving it,” she revealed.
While with the team in the Welsh capital, she has had the opportunity to prepare for her club’s upcoming ties in Europe’s premier club competition. And she is using her experience as a professional player with her club side to help coach the side in Cardiff during the competition.
“I’ve been trying to teach the girls about discipline and to realise that as a team when they are all on the same page they can go very far. And that if everybody has the same amount of passion and they support each other.
“It’s a short time that we as coaches are with them [the women’s and men’s sides] and I hope to just give them tools that maybe they can think about in 20 years,” she said.
And the midfielder is aware that her team’s participation in the tournament representing Austria is changing their lives for the better.
“I think that the opportunity that these [players] have to meet people from other cultures and the new ideas, new languages, new scenery … it opens up something.
“I hope they will remember how wonderful a time they’ve had,” she finished.
Words: Craig Williams
Images: Mile 44