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The FFA failed the Matildas, now the clubs must do better

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Expert
25th June, 2019
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For the most part, the Matildas have grown and developed into one of Australia’s most talented and treasured national teams in spite of, rather than because of the support of, those governing football.

As we approached yet another World Cup, one which many hoped Australia would surpass their historic 2015 run to the quarter-finals, we learned more and more about the history of the women’s game.

The publication of Greg Howe’s Encyclopedia of Matildas told the story of self-made women and administrators who carved a game out for themselves when no one else seemed interested.

We learned of pioneers who dedicated the little spare time they had away from their careers and families to build a brilliant culture and an even better pipeline of talent for the national team.

It is, therefore, a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions that their greatest opportunity at World Cup glory was ruined by a governing body suddenly interested enough to meddle in the team’s affairs.

We still do not know why Football Federation Australia felt the need to take the drastic step of sacking Alen Stajcic so close to the tournament.

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Alen Stajcic

Alen Stajcic (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

We don’t know why Ante Milicic was the preferred candidate, or why he was only given two friendly games to implement his changes before the World Cup.

It would be naïve to suggest the Matildas’ underwhelming performances in France were solely about the coaching change.

The team was plagued by poor individual performances in each game, failed to score in crucial moments and even endured a couple of moments of bad luck against Norway.

But regardless of the range of factors which contributed to the Round-of-16 exit, it would be hard to argue that the FFA delivered an environment which would give the Matildas the greatest chance of success.

Worse yet, with FFA’s financial plight worsening, perhaps it will be years before a similar opportunity reveals itself.

With the split of the A-League and W-League from the FFA due by the end of the week, perhaps the one great hope for the continued development and improvement of the women’s game lies with the clubs themselves.

In splitting from the FFA and controlling their own destiny, the clubs will take a massive amount of control and responsibility for the development of both the men’s and women’s game.

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If the Matildas are to continue to consider themselves one of the best teams in the world, then the W-League needs to grow exponentially, provide a longer season and more games for our players to keep up with the explosion of investment occurring in Europe.

It is laughable to think that a team like English heavyweights Manchester United, one of the richest teams in the world, did not bother with a women’s team until last season.

Spanish giants Real Madrid will launch their own team next year.

No one should be applauding these giants of the game for such belated investments, but the fact that they have finally taken the plunge means better facilities, better coaching and better pay for the next generation of women in their countries.

It also means greater competition for the clubs who already take their women’s football seriously.

The slow awakening in clubland has already paid great dividends for the European nations at this World Cup.

The Round of 16 featured eight European nations and to date, only Spain have been eliminated – and they were knocked out by world champions, the United States, courtesy of some questionable VAR intervention.

We know that even an independent A-League and its clubs will not have the sheer capital to invest in women’s football of their counterparts.

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But any serious conversation about how the separation of the professional game, both male and female, and the FFA will benefit the development Australian national teams must also include the women’s game.

Reported discussions between the W-League and the National Women’s Soccer League in the United States are a good start.

Resource sharing between the two competitions would benefit both clubs and players by ensuring higher quality games and players for both competitions, raising the bar in both.

The development of a proper home base for the Matildas in Victoria is another important milestone.

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It’s not all doom and gloom, but while the independence of the professional game in Australia will give clubs greater control of their destiny, it also means there is much more responsibility on them to act in the best interests of the game.

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That responsibility includes the women’s game and while we wait with bated breath to learn more about what the next week means for the A-League, a possible second division and more, we should also have our fingers crossed for a new and improved W-League.

It’s the least the powers that be can do for the Matildas after their failure to them in the lead up to France 2019.