We are still yet to hear a full explanation from Football Australia as to why Alen Stajcic was removed from his Matildas post just…
With the Young Matildas and Junior Matildas not playing in more than two years due to COVID and with the FA’s Women’s Performance Gap report identifying a major gap in young footballers getting game time at the senior international level, bringing in an extra stepping stone is crucial for the future of women’s football development in Australia.
The Olyroos are a predominantly under-23s men’s team, with only three overage players allowed in the final Olympic squads.
In women’s football the Olympics is open-age with no restrictions. Having an ‘Olytildas’ team may bridge the gap between the under-20s of the Young Matildas and the senior national side.
Putting the additional cost of this aside for a moment – even though this is an important and probably defining factor – such a scheme would perhaps alleviate some of the angst in women’s football at the moment, where younger players are missing out on crucial game time.
The Women’s Performance Gap report published in 2020 provided some startling revelations.
Australia, along with Brazil, had the fewest number of youth international programs for girls when compared with ten other nations studied. Australia and Brazil oversee only three programs, while England, Japan, Netherlands, Sweden and the United States oversee seven each.
Between 2016 and 2020 Australia played only 57 international matches at the youth level, the fewest of any other nation in the study. By way of comparison, USA, Norway, Germany and France each played more than 200, highlighting the development opportunity gap that exists for Australia’s youth.
Having a part-time domestic league only exacerbates the problem.
Players who no longer fit the age criterion for under-20s but who can’t get into the senior Matildas often go missing in between due to the lack of development.
An under-23s team that has some overaged players can fix this by allowing younger footballers to get international-level game time while at the same time playing with some senior experienced players and receiving valuable mentorship.
The concept of establishing such a team is not easy right now, especially considering FA has lost over $8 million over the past two financial years. But there are a number of other countries that have an under-23 team, and regular competition with these powerful nations wouldn’t do our Australian footballers any harm.
The benchmark nation for women’s football, four-time world and Olympic champions USA, have had an under-23 team since 2008. The move was made by the United States Soccer Federation in response to FIFA increasing the age limit for its women’s youth World Cup competition from 19 to 20.
This change, coupled with the prestigious Nordic Cup introducing an under-23 age limit, prompted the USSF to rethink and eventually change their youth development team. Players like Kiki Pickett, midfielder Brianna Pinto and forward Mia Fishel are future US stars in this team.
Established US senior players like Lynn Williams, Christen Press, Emily Sonnett and Sam Mewis went through the under-23s setup and all but Williams were part of the 2019 senior World Cup-winning squad.
European countries also followed suit by establishing under-23s teams to play in the Nordic Cup. England, the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden, to name a few, all have such teams. Melbourne Victory legend and former England international Natasha Dowie played for the England under-23s in 2010-11.
Establishing an under-23s team for Australia can give us the opportunity to play in competitions with an under-23s age limit, like the Nordic Cup. We could even have an internal policy to send under-23s teams with a handful of overaged players to the Asian Cup.
There is no doubt some senior Matildas players may resist this concept, but it would be for the greater good of Australian football.
Players like Courtney Nevin, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Cortnee Vine, Jess Nash, Holly McNamara, who have senior Matildas experience, can play in both this team and the senior Matildas too. This will increase their game minutes and reduce the performance gap.
The Olympics will remain a senior open competition for now, so the name ‘Olytildas’ may not work. But fans will surely be able to come up with a creative idea.
FA needs to come up with new ideas, otherwise our golden era of Matildas football may become a distant memory.