Do the Matildas need a female coach?

With the recent decision by former Matildas coach Ante Milicic to move into the head coaching role at A-League club Macarthur Bulls, the national team is now in need of a new mentor.

The 46-year-old Milicic did a commendable job with a group of women fast becoming Australia’s national team of choice. The 2019 World Cup in France did not quite bring the football glory for which the nation had hoped, with the women entering the event as a top ten ranked team, seemingly destined to navigate the group stage and compete in the knockout phase.

A Round of 16 loss to Norway torpedoed the Matildas from the competition when the dreaded penalty shootout denied them an opportunity to advance. Since, Milicic has continued in his role and after two warm up friendlies against Chile, led the team in a successful Olympic Qualifying campaign.

In truth, he had done little wrong and had he chosen to stay in the job, the likelihood is that he would have been afforded that opportunity. However, it appears the Sydney born ex-Socceroo had his eyes fixed on the top job in Sydney’s southwest and the chance to test his skills in the A-League.

That decision has opened up discussion around who his successor should be. Rumours circle that former USWNT coach Jill Ellis is high on the FFA hit list, others claim the popular Ross Aloisi is the clear favourite, whilst some believe Ante Juric or Arsenal coach Joe Montemurro would be ideal.

In recent weeks, it has been noted that Ellis appears to be a front runner for the position yet the only woman on the short list.

Internationally proven names such as Sarina Weigman and Carolina Morace have been thrown forward as female candidates for a position that many feel should be filled by a woman. There is a firm belief that the time is nigh and that the potential symbolism of such a move would be a powerful statement.

Personally, I would like to seek the best person selected for the attractive task of taking the Matildas to the Tokyo Olympics and forwards toward the 2023 Women’s World Cup on home shores, whichever sex they may be.

Getting the right professional fit will be vital for a team competing in the most speedily advancing women’s code on the planet, with the quality and depth seemingly improving at an exponential rate. Appointing a new coach for any reason other than them being the best suited to the role and a with proven record of being able to extract the absolute best from the players at his or her’s disposal would be folly.

Whilst I believe that the above is indeed a measured and logical argument, there is also a line of thinking that sees significant women in the Australian game determined to ensure that the role is indeed filled by a female; a view that is reportedly at odds with the sentiments of many players within the Matildas squad.

The last time a Matildas team was coached by a woman, things ended in disaster; perhaps informing the current players’ preference not to demand a female appointment and their contentment with the men who have led them in recent years, Milicic and former coach Alen Stajcic.

Certainly there is no suggestion that the appointment of a female coach would result in the same outcomes as 2014, however some players appear fearful of a ‘token’ female appointment; one based on a belief that a woman’s team should have a woman coach and not only on the quality of the candidate.

Personally, I would love to see the Matildas led by a woman, in the same way I would like to see the Socceroos led by a woman should she be the best person for the job.

Former Matilda Shelley Youman has been a strong advocate for a female coach of the national squad. In an interview with Australian website Women in Football contributor Janakan Seemampillai, Youman suggested the modern group of Matilda’s should “grow up” and accept the idea of a female coach.

She doubled down by stating that the importance of appointing a woman to the role was so paramount at this stage of the women’s game in Australia that “If we can’t find a woman, look harder.”

Many would bemoan such an appointment as one designed to suit an emotional and utopian aspiration for the Matildas. The alternative view presented by women previously or currently involved in the domestic game, would instead cite the lack of belief in and failure to identify and develop female coaches in the past.

Those holding that view believe in investing in a highly credentialed woman for the role now, rather than potentially recirculating another male from within the FFA system.

As the Matildas embark on a busy three years of important football, the appointment could well make or break their chances. Firstly, of a successful Olympic campaign and also the development of a squad capable of seriously competing for the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

The powers at be will need to determine;

a) Whether it is indeed time for a woman to take the reins of the Matildas.

b) The identity of the woman capable of doing so.

Should the answer to a) be no and/or the right candidate not found, the coach will, once again, most likely be male. That decision would infuriate the proud female pioneers of Australia’s football past, yet also be one with which the Matildas appear to have little problem.

Staff Writer
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Shedding the light on Germany’s unique 50+1 ownership model

Football in Germany enjoys widespread popularity due to its top-tier play, the highest average attendances in world football, affordable ticket prices, and a vibrant fan culture. A significant factor contributing to this is the 50+1 ownership rule.

Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke famously once said in 2016 via the Bundesliga website:

“The German spectator traditionally has close ties with his club, and if he gets the feeling that he’s no longer regarded as a fan but instead as a customer, we’ll have a problem.”

The 50+1 rule safeguards this – the rule refers to the requirements that club members hold 50 percent plus one additional vote of the voting rights to ensure a majority. Essentially, it means that clubs, and consequently, the fans retain the final say in their management, rather than external influences or investors.

According to the German Football League (DFL) regulations, football clubs are prohibited from participating in the Bundesliga or the second division if external investors hold the majority control.

Essentially, this means that private or commercial investors cannot take control of clubs and implement measures prioritising profit over supporters’ interests. The regulation protects against irresponsible owners and preserves the democratic traditions of German clubs.

Historically, German football clubs were non-profit institutions managed by member associations, and private ownerships was entirely prohibited until 1998. The introduction of the 50+1 rule that year helps explain why debts and wages are kept in check and why ticket prices remain significantly lower compared to other major European leagues.

It should be noted that clubs have adapted to these changes in different ways, resulting in various forms of member ownership. Many Bundesliga teams are legally structured as limited or joint-stock companies, established as subsidiaries of the main club, which often includes other sports departments and/or women’s teams, to manage the men’s first team. Some of these companies are even publicly traded. Clubs in leagues below the DFL-regulated Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 also follow similar approaches, partly to ensure compliance in the event of promotion.

Using Bayern Munich as an example, the shareholders of the men’s first team (FC Bayern München AG) are the members’ club (FC Bayern München e.V. – 75%), Adidas (8.3%), Allianz (8.3%) and Audi (8.3%). With Bayern’s now 300,000+ members being the largest membership of any sports club in the world, it is not difficult to comprehend why they are one of the well structured football clubs in the world, by primarily being debt-free which German clubs are.

In Germany, discussions of financial issues or Financial Fair Play violations are virtually non-existent, whereas news of economic struggles and FFP sanctions is common in other European leagues.

German football fans have turned their passion for football and for their clubs into power and forcing change whenever they are not content with a decision such as when the DFB confirmed that Bundesliga football would be televised on Monday night, fans boycotted the initial Monday night matches, it was then cancelled by the DFB.

While private investment could elevate German football to new heights, the fans are opposed to it.

It’s the fans and their principles that make football in Germany so special. The 50+1 rule may appear outdated in the modern era, but it’s a model that many fans have advocated for in other places. Football is for the fans, and in Germany, things are as they should be.

The 50+1 rule would greatly benefit the decisions and the structure of football in the Isuzu UTE A-League men’s and Liberty A-League women’s with all the controversy that has plagued the game over the years. If there is transparency and communication between member fans and the clubs hierarchy, it would put the priority of fans to the top as they are the most important aspect of where the revenue comes from and would improve the decision making process.

For members of an A-League team, they are essentially ticket holders with some additional rights and privileges that non-members lack. However, these do not involve any participation in the club’s management.

From the football landscape in Australia where the fans are often unhappy with the relationship between them and their club’s ownership, German football seems to have got that blend working positively.

How Patrick Spagnolo has revolutionised sporting apparel in Australia with OneSports

Patrick Spagnolo has really changed the game in the local footballing world in how to best go about the time-consuming task of customising kits, combining customer care and his huge passion for design to create OneSports that Box Hill United have managed to collaborate with for the current season.

Spagnolo boasts 35 years’ experience in the apparel industry, including a role with CK working with some big name retailers in Australia and abroad, fostering expertise crucial to OneSports’ success. His burning passion for both customer care and design excellence has led to the company being involved with some fantastic clubs in Victoria like Melbourne City and Avondale FC.

Patrick Spagnolo discussed the origins of OneSports and outlined what services the company offers for its many partners.

“OneSports was all about providing quality teamwear and that’s why we partnered with PUMA around 12 years ago. The company basically offers an end-to-end service so from design of the kits right through to the dispatch with all in-house production,” he explained.

“The key with an end-to-end service is partnership with our customers and really understanding what their requirements are. With that information we can collaborate and create a product they are really looking for.”

Whilst Spagnolo doesn’t quite have a football background himself, it was his kids early involvement in the sport that sparked the OneSports idea to partner with local clubs.

Luke Pickett in front of the Wembley Park stand.

He also touched on his wealth of experience in the apparel industry and the previous bigger roles he was involved in that guided him to early success with OneSports.

“My background is 35 years in the apparel industry, worked as a general manager for CK for 15 years and worked with big box retailers like Myer and Target as well as big retailers in the UK,” he mentioned.

“I’ve got a vast experience in the apparel industry and also come from a design background anyway so then built on that through OneSports from a marketing perspective as well.

“I’ve got an AFL background funny enough, but it started when my kids were playing soccer and what I could see was that all these clubs were struggling with supply, and they were quite unreliable.”

There is a reason why OneSports was able to succeed almost instantly with a partner like PUMA getting onboard. The company offers outstanding design and production services but also takes away the huge hassle for football clubs which is customizing their kits.

Spagnolo expanded on the company’s main point of difference in the competitive apparel market and why so many local clubs are partnering with the company in recent years.

“The point of difference with One Sports is the design element of it, on understanding what the DNA and the identity of each of our customers are and working back on their history to come up with a design that leads us towards success,” he said.

“I saw that there was an opportunity there, but I didn’t just want a no name brand or made up brand, we wanted a premium brand and that’s why we presented the business model to PUMA which ended up being a success.

“Being able to draw on PUMA’s vast library of designs and European influences that we’re able to give the latest trend of sports apparel but more specific teamwear.”

“PUMA has a brand sells itself, it’s probably one of the best football brands in the world which makes it all a lot easier,” he concluded.

Spagnolo’s experience in the industry has led to a big change in the way a supplier communicates with the clubs, searching a lot more in-depth into each club’s history and drawing inspiration from that to create a layered piece of teamwear.

In 2024, OneSports collaborated with Box Hill United to create two unique designs for its home and away kits that are an ode to the over century long history of the club and modernising it with some European inspirations.

Box Hill United’s training shirt for the 2024 season.

He discussed the exact process the company took in designing each of the kits and what the apparel means to the club on a deeper level.

“When we come in the point of design concepts for clubs, we give each of them 4-6 design concepts that look at what the trends are looking like and finding an identity,” he explained.

“The Box Hill home kit was drawn off Manchester City’s 2023/24 home kit design and we combined it with Box Hill’s history which predominantly had a striped jersey and also a cheval jersey back in the day.

“Being an over 100-year club, we used the old kit with the cheval to draw the inspiration for the away kit with a modern twist to it, and the key is keeping it trendy and modern,” he continued.

“The stripe on the home kit is like a shadow stripe so it was based on Man City’s look with a mixture of Box Hill’s original home kits that had the striped looks. The away kit recognises the club’s past with the cheval look and modernises it to make it look more presentable for this upcoming season.”

The Under 16’s recently showcased their new ‘Vista’ Royal Blue home kits designed by OneSports. This was inspired by AC Milan’s 2020/21 away kit, adding to it a collar and cuff design showcasing the colours of Box Hill, Blue, White and Black.

The goalkeeper kit comes in all black with a feature of ‘Ice break’ on the sleeves and side mesh, adding a subtle yet powerful touch to the kit.

Luke Del Vecchio in the black goalkeeper kit. Image credit: Passion Creations.

Spagnolo talked about OneSports’ ambitions in the future as a company that is currently focused on the local and domestic game but is potentially looking at expanding further. 

“OneSports is not really looking at moving away from partnering with local clubs mostly because of PUMA’s values,” he said.

“There is an ulterior motive there from PUMA because their belief is if the kids are wearing ‘the cat’, they will be more inclined to buy more PUMA products because you become loyal to a brand so grabbing them at a young age is important.”

Spagnolo mentioned the time-consuming nature of catering to every club’s needs and how that is important to the relationship with partners but also the integrity of OneSports.

“We are big on brand integrity, we’re not just out there to flog garments, we are invested in all our club partners no matter how big or small they are,” he said.

“We care and that use of the word ‘care’ is sincere and authentic because we don’t miss delivery dates and collaborate closely with clubs like Box Hill United now.”

OneSports’ partnership with Box Hill United exemplifies its commitment to honouring clubs’ histories. With just over a century of the club’s history and an important 40-year milestone for the women’s team this season, the innovative designs have given the club an array of kits that really represent the values of the club and successes of the past.

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