What next for Wales women after Gemma Grainger steps down with immediate effect?

  • ITV Wales journalist Richard Morgan was live outside FAW Headquarters

Gemma Grainger's announcement on Wednesday evening she was standing down as Wales manager with immediate effect" came as a shock to many.

Grainger explained the "extremely difficult" decision was made after an "unexpected opportunity" came up to manage former world and European champions Norway.

Almost inevitably, it leaves the FAW in a bit of a tricky position as they seek a new gaffer who can build on the significant steps taken by Grainger in her almost three years in the job.

So, who will take charge of the national team? And why did Grainger make the move?

Gemma Grainger has been in the role for nearly three years, having been appointed in March 2021. Credit: PA Images

Who will become the new Wales women's manager?

Once the surprise sunk in on Wednesday night, this was probably the first question on most people's minds.

The answer is that it is not yet clear who will take over the role.

Although both Bristol City manager Lauren Smith and her assistant coach Loren Dykes have been named in the media as possible replacements, there is no obvious candidate.

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Smith was quick to rule herself out as she said: "I'm fully committed to Bristol City. The challenge of the WSL is something I've wanted.

"Being Wales manager is an amazing job and an amazing step, and I wish whoever that is the best of luck."

Dykes, herself a former Wales international, could still be in the running. She is yet to join Smith in saying "no" to the job.

Whoever takes over will have a tough act to follow, but a lot of potential to work with.

Bristol City manager Lauren Smith has already ruled herself out. Credit: PA Images

Grainger took the team to the verge of qualifying for their first World Cup in 2022, falling at the final hurdle as they conceded a last-minute Swiss goal in the play-offs final to lose 2-1.

Announcing yesterday's news, Grainger said: “I truly believe this team is ready to take the next steps and qualify."

Since taking the job in March 2021, the departing manager and her team have also done a lot to raise the profile of the women's game in Wales, attracting a record crowd to the Cardiff City Stadium for a the World Cup play-off semi-final win against Bosnia & Herzegovina.

That is a legacy the FAW will be determined to continue.

How have Wales performed recently?

The team faced a tough time in the inaugural Women's Nations League tournament last year, picking up just a single point from six matches and finishing bottom of their group.

It means they will be in a lower league when the tournament returns for a second season later this year.

However, it was a tough group - facing Germany, Denmark and Iceland - and there was some cause for optimism.

That optimism largely came from an unexpected draw in the final game against Germany in Swansea.

With the tournament ongoing, Germany are still in it and will play France in the semis next month.

The 0-0 draw at the Swansea.com Stadium was a positive note to end on in what turned out to be Grainger's last match as Cymru manager.

Wales' solitary point came in the final game of the Women's Nations League, against Germany in Swansea. Credit: PA Images

And (more importantly) the team are still in contention to qualify for the Euros in 2025.

It will be hoped a permanent replacement is in place by the time Cymru play Finland in Cardiff on 21 March in the play-off semi-finals.

Why has Grainger switched to Norway?

Explaining her decision, Grainger said “I had no intention to leave Cymru" but the chance to manage Norway was a chance she "could not turn down."

Despite perhaps not performing to their full potential more recently, Norway remain a powerhouse nation for women's football.

Despite a small population of just 5 million, they remain one of just four nations to have ever won the World Cup. Of those four, it is the smallest to have lifted the trophy.

Norway were knocked out of the Women's World Cup last year in the last 16. Credit: PA Images

As well as shining on the world stage, they are also former European and Olympic champions and have bags of potential to return to their former glory.

The team were knocked out of last year's World Cup in the last 16 - a disappointing result by their high standards which led to the departure of Hege Riise, a football legend in her own right, as manager.

Grainger will take over the role from Leif Gunnar Smerud, who has been in temporary charge since then.

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What has the reaction been so far from the FAW?

Following the news of Grainger's departure, FAW Chief Executive Noel Mooney said: “I would like to place on record our sincere gratitude for what Gemma has achieved during her time as Cymru National Team Manager.

"She worked incredibly hard with all of us at the FAW to provide the best possible environment for the Women’s National Team to be successful".  

Grainger said managing Norway was an opportunity she "could not turn down." Credit: PA Images

Mr Mooney added: “We are really happy that we have progressed well under Gemma and now, we enter a period of recruitment for a new manager that will give us the best opportunity to qualify for UEFA EURO 2025 and the 2027 FIFA World Cup.”

Talking about the legacy she leaves behind, FAW President Steve Williams said: “I’d like to thank Gemma for her hard work during her tenure as manager.

"Having continued to raise the standards within the National Team set-up, I believe her eventual successor will have the tools to continue pushing this team to new heights.”