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NWSL players call out Ireland coach Vera Pauw for ‘abusive’ behavior

(Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Ireland women’s national team coach Vera Pauw was “abusive” and “belittling” to players during her time with the NWSL’s Houston Dash, several former Dash players told The Athletic.

Four former Dash players and three former staff members detailed allegations against Pauw, who coached the club during the 2018 season. Per the former players and staff members’ conversations with The Athletic, Pauw’s behavior included: making comments about players’ weights and eating habits; wanting “total control” over players’ training, meals and injury protocols; making disparaging comments made toward American and English players; and becoming physically aggressive in at least two instances.

The latest allegations come months after a joint investigation conducted by the NWSL and NWSLPA found that Pauw had “shamed players for their weight and attempted to exert excessive control over their eating habits.” The 60-year-old coach denied the allegations and claimed a double standard existed in the investigation.

“If I would have been a man, who would even care about something like that?” she said. “People would say, ‘It is you task to prepare the players to be the best on the pitch.’”

The former Dash players described Pauw as “micromanaging” their food intake and their training, and one former player told The Athletic that the NWSL and NWSLPA investigation did not paint the full picture of Pauw’s tenure in Houston.

“I don’t think (the joint investigation) was anywhere close (to telling the full story),” the player said. “With Vera, it was everything.”

Several people who spoke to The Athletic about Pauw did not take part in the investigation conducted by the NWSL and NWSLPA.

Pauw refuted the latest allegations and instead offered up her own allegations against those within the Dash organization, including an alleged death threat from a staff member due to a change in the training schedule.

“He threatened to shoot me in the head as I was taking his beer night away,” she said.

Pauw told The Athletic that she reported the incident to the police. But former Dash president Chris Canetti told the publication via email that while the organization “took internal disciplinary actions and other steps to directly deal with a situation regarding an employee,” he did not recall “any external involvement.”

When asked by The Athletic if she wanted “total control” in Houston, Pauw said “completely.” But she questioned why that would be an allegation of abuse.

“I will control the training loads of the players. I want the control that they actually get food. I gave up a lot of hours from the sports scientists – because I could do that myself – to save money to bring in food to take care of the players,” she said. “Injury protocols? That is my job… I am responsible for the health and safety of the players.

“It’s only a woman that can be criticized like that. Do you think Pep Guardiola would get this on his plate?

“Yes, I did that. And I’m proud of that because that’s my job.”

Pauw now coaches Ireland, which is heading into its first World Cup. She is “very happy” with the team, she said. Defender Chloe Mustaki applauded the atmosphere created by Pauw, saying the team has “the highest standards we have ever had in the camp.”