Australian football insiders are concerned about the lack of a physical presence in Australia by Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson. Considering he has only won three out of 16 games since taking over last year, those concerns have been somewhat magnified.
The Swede has spent the bulk of his time in his native land, and relied heavily on assistant Mel Andreatta and Future Matildas coach Leah Blayney to operate things on the ground in Australia.
Former Matilda legend Lisa De Vanna has been one of the outspoken voices, while a number of other players and coaches in Australia have privately questioned the arrangement.
Considering Gustavsson’s family is in Sweden, and the COVID pandemic is making travel challenging, it is somewhat understandable he has elected to stay at home.
However, many feel he should have been required to move to Australia as part of his role, to take a hands-on approach to coaching and scouting players, especially those on the fringes. The optics around this are also important, as it would show Gustavsson’s commitment to Australian football if he was actually here.
While there are a few established Matildas playing in Europe, there are a number who are playing in the A-League Women. There are also fringe players who would arguably need their potential national team coach to be present more than anyone else.
The likes of Courtney Nevin, Bryleeh Henry, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Jessika Nash, Karly Roestbakken and Remy Siemsen have all made their Matilda debuts recently and are playing in Australia.
There are also youngsters like Taylor Ray, Jamilla Rankin, Isabella Dalton, Mackenzie Hawkesby, Charlize Rule, Cortnee Vine, Holly McNamara and Winonah Heatley who are yet to be capped but are playing down under in season 2021-22.
While Gustavsson is in regular communication with Andreatta and watches A-League Women games from home, there is no doubt it would make more sense for him to be in Australia, watching players from the stands and physically running sessions and providing advice to players in person.
Tony Gustavsson (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
He would also still be able to view foreign-based players on TV, something he is doing from Sweden, anyway.
There is also a school of thought that any senior Matildas coach should be involved with the under-17s and under-20s national set-ups. A number of former Matilda players and coaches believe our national team’s coach should take a holistic approach to the Australian football system.
In addition to helping players, his guidance and tuition of up-and-coming Australian coaches would also be of tremendous value. This is something that will help Australian women’s football beyond 2023. In fact, it is understood one of the key performance indicators for his three-year tenure was his mentoring and development of future Australian coaches.
Blayney, for example, is considered to be one of the most outstanding young coaches in Australian football. Her ’Future Matildas’ program is exceptional and has produced a number of players recently capped by Gustavsson, or on the verge of getting there.
Gustavsson’s presence would logically be important to her, Andreatta, as well as other coaches in the Australian system. There are a number of young and inexperienced coaches in the A-League Women’s set-up, who would benefit from having the head coach physically present for mentoring and guidance.
The likes of Alex Epakis (Perth), Ash Wilson (Newcastle) and Cath Cannuli (Western Sydney), for example, are raw at the highest level of coaching. Having Gustavsson available in close proximity would benefit them immensely.
While the world is changing how we work, in terms of using technology and digital communication, this doesn’t work as well in a professional sporting landscape.
Hands-on coaching cannot be substituted by analysing film and talking via video conference to assistants, especially for our national team, who are preparing for a World Cup on home soil in 18 months.
While Andreatta has done an admirable job and has talked publicly about how the current set-up works, there are concerns that Gustavsson isn’t getting enough self-observed intelligence to make informed choices about player selections.
In fact, the Matildas squad announced this morning for their pre-Asian Cup camp in Dubai had some surprising inclusions and notable omissions.
For example, the decision to recall Ivy Luik, who retired after the Tokyo Olympics, has raised eyebrows. While Luik remains one of Australia’s most technically gifted players, she is 36 and looked off the pace in Tokyo.
Katrina Gorry was also selected for the camp in Dubai, and while she has shown form for Brisbane Roar and is a proven international player, expecting someone who had a baby five months ago to play international standard football seems a bit of a stretch.
Gorry declined the invite to participate in the camp, sighting challenges living in a COVID bubble with her baby in Dubai and then in India, where the Asian Cup will take place for two weeks.
Rankin, Henry, Hawkesby and Dalton are considered to be unlucky not to be in the squad heading to the camp in Dubai.
While post-Asian Cup the Matildas may feature in the Algarve Cup in Portugal, it is likely Australia will play most pre-2023 World Cup preparation games on home soil.
Whether the coach decides to base himself here in the lead-up will be a burning question on the tongue of Australian football fans, particularly if results don’t go his way.