TOM Sermanni leans forward and roars with laughter.
The Scot, head coach of the USA women's football team since the start of the year, has just claimed he has a better job than his counterpart with the men's side, Juergen Klinsmann. The 58-year-old is not deterred when it is pointed out the German earns a reported $2.5m a year. "So I have a better job and I'm getting more money as well?" he asks, rocking with mirth.
Sermanni's arrival in Los Angeles is the latest leg of a nomadic, upward journey which started in the Milton area of Glasgow. Few in the football world had much of an inkling who he was until recently – except in Australia. He pitched up there in 1983 following a playing career encompassing Albion Rovers, Blackpool, Torquay United and Dunfermline Athletic, with only marginally better career prospects than the convicts who had been shipped out from Britain in an earlier age.
As a young man, Sermanni had qualified as a primary teacher. It proved a sound insurance policy as it provided him with skills which were to prove invaluable. He was appointed coach of the Australian schoolboys team, and then put in charge of the boys' football programme at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, an establishment renowned for its excellence.
Even so, helping to nurture the careers of players such as Mark Viduka and Kevin Muscat might have been the extent of Sermanni's input, had women's football not been embraced into the Olympic Games. The Australians turned to Sermanni, asking him not just to coach the national side, but write the programme for women's football in the country.
Sermanni's sojourn in Australia was interrupted between 1997 and 2005 by club posts in Japan and America, and a further national coaching job in Malaysia. However, both in his first spell, and on his subsequent reappointment to the Australian post, he made such a success of the job that he was recruited by the Americans when Pia Sundhage returned to Sweden late last year to prepare the hosts for this year's European Championship.
It wasn't just taking Australia to ninth in the Fifa rankings, or leading the colourfully-named Westfield Matildas to three World Cup quarter- finals. Under Sermanni's leadership women's football in Australia was transformed from a minority sport to a mainstream one. Sermanni reels off the statistic that there are 112,000 registered female football players in what is still regarded as a highly macho male sport. "There has been a huge increase in participation – 25% of all players in Australia are female and the numbers are growing," he says.
Anna Signeul, the Scotland coach, believes that Sermanni has left behind a potentially excellent young Australian side. He agrees, but says the opportunity to coach the Olympic champions was "irresistible". His remit is to steer his powerful new team to their country's third World Cup triumph when the tournament next takes place, in Canada in 2015.
Throw in the immense pull of women's soccer in the States, where there are a staggering 1.67m registered female players, and Sermanni's claim that he has a better job than Klinsmann gathers substance. According to Fifa, only four countries – Germany, America, Brazil and France – have a higher number of registered male players. "We are the No.1 team in the world and our players are as high-profile, if not more so, than the men here," he says. "The side is very popular, especially after winning the Olympics in London. I reckon Jurgen's job is tougher and I have the better one because soccer is the sport of choice for women here."
A former Celtic Boys Club player, Sermanni keeps a close watch on Neil Lennon's team and is also full of praise for the work Signeul has done in Scotland. She was invited to Australia to be interviewed for his old job and he said: "For me, to be honest, Anna ticked all the boxes. She stood a very, very good chance of getting it."
Instead, the two will pit wits in Jacksonville, Florida, on Saturday night and again in Nashville, Tennessee, a week today. The double-header will be Sermanni's first games in charge of America. The fixtures were arranged before his appointment – the Scots were originally invited to travel across in November – but he is delighted with the roll of the dice. "If I had been given a choice of opponents for my first match, Scotland would have been top of the list," he says.
This is one Scotsman who is convinced of the potential of women's football and he is scratching his head as to why others don't share his views. "If a country is smart it will realise women's football is where the growth is," he explains. "It was sometimes frustrating in Australia trying to make men's clubs realise that women's football can actually be an asset instead of an expense."
He might find the evangelising even tougher in Scotland but, sitting in Los Angeles, Sermanni can afford a loud laugh.