Diane Caldwell says the Republic of Ireland qualified for their first World Cup “in spite” of then boss Vera Pauw.
The Republic’s World Cup was dominated by questions over Pauw’s behaviour, her future as manager and player unrest.
Pauw was not offered a contract extension by the Football Association of Ireland after the tournament.
“From my position, as a pretty experienced player, I don’t think it was up to the standard expected at international level,” Caldwell said.
“I think the results and performances that we got were in spite of Vera being our coach.”
Caldwell’s comments are the latest chapter in a saga that has overshadowed the Republic’s historic first World Cup in Australia, where the Irish exited in the group stage as defeats by Canada and co-hosts the Matildas were followed by a draw with Nigeria.
The build-up to the tournament was overshadowed by allegations towards Pauw about her conduct as manager of Houston Dash in 2018, which she strenuously denied.
After contract talks were put on hold, questions over Pauw’s future as manager emerged ahead of the final group game and there was further controversy post-match after a public falling-out with Republic captain Katie McCabe.
Pauw was then let go by the FAI following a review of the tournament, but Caldwell, in an astonishing press conference, said the players voiced concerns about the 60-year-old after the unsuccessful Euro 2022 qualifying campaign, after which the Dutchwoman was offered a new contract.
“I think there were many areas that could have been better,” added experienced defender Caldwell, whose only minutes at the World Cup came as a late substitute in the final dead rubber group match against Nigeria.
“After the European campaign [in 2021], myself and Katie [McCabe] also reflected with Ruud Dokter [then the FAI’s high performance director] about certain aspects that needed to be improved and changed, but ultimately that fell on deaf ears and she got a contract extension.
“Our preparation for games could have been better – physical preparation, opponent analysis, match tactics, in-game match tactics, changes, systems of play.
“What was happening under Vera? I think a group of players that were destined for success came together at the right time.”
‘Hard to get change’
When asked if the end of Pauw’s tenure added pressure on the players, Caldwell pointed to 2017 when the players threatened to go on strike over conditions but backed up their demands with results on the pitch.
They subsequently won that battle with the FAI and came close to qualifying for Euro 2022 before their successful World Cup campaign.
Caldwell added that the players had approached Pauw “many times about professionalising many aspects but it was hard to get change”.
“She obviously made myself a part of the leadership group that she created, along with a few other players. She gave us a position to use our voice and to try and talk on behalf of the team,” Caldwell said.
“We tried to do that as a group, the best we could, but at the end of the day she is the coach and she controls everything.
“You can only say and try to change so much. Again, I think it was an accumulation of everything over a long time.
“People not in the know will find it hard to understand and see from our point of view, but knowledge is your wealth and if you don’t know these things then it is probably wrong to speak out and give your opinion on things you maybe don’t have a full understanding of.”
The FAI appointed Eileen Gleeson as interim manager for the upcoming Nations League matches, the first of which is against Northern Ireland at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium on 23 September.
“I’m very happy there is change and it gives us all a new lease of life,” Caldwell said.
“Straight away, the level of professionalism. There are three new roles that have been introduced that we haven’t had before. That is a massive sign of intent from the association that we want to raise the level.
“It is a new beginning, and with the changes the FAI has made with the new roles, it just shows intent and standards are going to be raised.
“They have listened to the stakeholders in this team and realised that these girls are good but we can be getting even more out of them.
“They can be performing at a higher level and be achieving more success than what they have been.”