FFA makes clever choice with Gustavsson appointment

Football Federation Australia announced the appointment of Tony Gustavsson on Tuesday night, as head coach of the Matildas for the next four years.

The 47-year-old Swede will take up the role from the beginning of next year, with the chance to lead Australia’s most loved sporting team to World Cup success on home soil in 2023.

Before then he will have to prepare the current crop of Matildas stars for an Olympic campaign in Tokyo next year and an Asian Cup in India in 2022.

It is of little doubt, Gustavsson’s assignment is a very difficult one.

With four major tournaments (the final one being the Paris Olympics in 2024) in four years there will be a pressure to perform, as the FFA continue to prioritise women’s football in this country, to resurrect the overall outlook of the game.

But is he the right person for the job?

Initial impressions are positive, and on paper, the FFA seems to have made an astute appointment.

Gustavsson’s CV is well rounded with a deep knowledge of the women’s game.

His greatest achievements include winning two World Cups in 2015 and 2019, as an assistant to Jill Ellis for the US Women’s National Team (USWNT).

He was lauded as the “brains” behind the success of the USWNT in the subsequent World Cup victories, as his analytical and tactical execution was instrumental to their setup.

The newly-announced head coach of the Matildas also has an Olympic Gold Medal to his name, as an assistant in a USWNT squad led by Pia Sundhage in 2012.

In club coaching, he guided Swedish club Tyresö FF to the 2014 UEFA Women’s Champions League Final where they lost to German side VFL Wolfsburg.

Gustavsson’s extensive experience and familiarity in women’s football, his proven track record of success in major tournaments, alongside his willingness to maximise the potential of the current women’s squad, ticked a lot of boxes for the FFA and the panel charged with filling the vacant Matildas role.

“Having worked closely with some of the best female footballers and coaches in the world and, through his time with the USWNT, Tony has developed an excellent understanding of what it takes to prepare for and perform in the intense, high-expectation environments of major international tournaments,” FFA CEO James Johnson said.

“We believe that in Tony, we have appointed a coach who will not only surpass the benchmarks and criteria we set as an organisation, but the standards that are expected by our players, football community and fans.

“Throughout the process it was evident that Tony is eager to buy in to what we are working to build with the Westfield Matildas – a uniquely Australian team with a strong identity that is recognised as world class.”

While his impressive CV will contribute to the Matildas’ fortunes on the field, in his opening press conference he exuded enthusiasm for the project and presented himself as a passionate, colourful manager which will likely benefit the team off the pitch.

“To balance my passion (for the game and people), I also need to work with what I call ‘love and joy’,” Gustavsson said.

“Passion, love and joy.

“Love in the sense of loving the game, love to work with people, love the people for who they are but see them for who they can become.

“I want to create a culture where we embrace differences and work together every day to get one day better as an individual and as a team. Hopefully, together with the staff – I talked to the staff this morning and said, ‘without the staff, I’m nothing. I need the staff; I need a team behind the team; we need each other’ – and if everyone can bring their piece to the puzzle and we, together, make that puzzle beautiful, I think we can create a culture where everyone feels important and included.”

The question, of course, is how far can the Swede take this team?

He has spoken about having a proactive part in the process of producing the next batch of Matildas and with a governing body eager to invest in women’s football, it is a promising development for the long-term future.

But I’m sure the FFA realises the enormity of the upcoming World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

It very well may be Australia’s best ever chance to win football’s biggest prize and optimisation for that tournament should be the main priority.

Will Gustavsson be able to deal with the expectation of a nation on his back at the World Cup?

The man himself doesn’t believe that will be an issue.

“I’ve experienced a lot of pressure throughout my career, both on the men’s and women’s side,” he said.

“I’ve been in that pressure cooker and know what it takes to deliver, when it means the most.”

As always, the proof will be in the pudding, but for now there is cautious optimism amongst Australian football circles around the appointment, which is refreshing to say the least.

Philip Panas is a sports journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and industry matters, drawing on his knowledge and passion of the game.

Bundesliga looks to become the first sustainable league in the world – will Australia follow?

The German Football League (DFL), the body which governs the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga, recently outlined their ambitions to become the world’s first carbon neutral domestic football leagues.

On August 19, the DFL announced that clubs would take a vote in December of this year on whether to include environmental sustainability as a part of its licensing requirements.

Environmental sustainability has been placed at the forefront of the DFL’s objectives over the past six months, through their Taskforce for the Future of Professional Football.

The taskforce, which is made up of 36 business, sport and political experts also looks to focus their energy on other topics such as financial stability, communication with fans and supporting the growth of the professional women’s game.

“This is only the first step of a marathon,” Christian Pfennig, member of the DFL management board, explained to Forbes.

“Our goal is to anchor sustainability oriented to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals as another key factor in our licensing program by 2022/23. Then the following year, we want to introduce incentives, but also sanctions should a club fail to meet the minimum criteria.”

The criteria itself will be finalised with external experts in the coming weeks and months.

Multiple German clubs have been extremely well received for their commitment to sustainability over the years.

Wolfsburg, who are currently first in the Bundesliga this season, were ranked the most environmentally sustainable club earlier this year in a report conducted by Sport Positive.

The report highlighted Wolfsburg’s dedication to using 100 per cent green energy across the club by using bioplastic cups and for ensuring zero landfill waste, whilst offering vegan options at their stadium on game-day. The club’s website also contains a corporate responsibility page with information about climate protection and environmental initiatives, as they plan to be carbon neutral by 2025.

Freiburg have used solar energy at their Schwarzwald-Stadion since 1993, with their new stadium to follow suit when it opens in October. The new facility will also have green energy storage and plug-in charging stations.

In 2010, Mainz became the Bundesliga’s and one of the world’s first carbon neutral football clubs.

These promising examples and many others have generally been taken individually , but the DFL now wants to centralise its approach to sustainability.

“The most important step now is to create a framework for the different clubs that are part of the DFL, from a Champions League participant to teams promoted from the third division,” Pfennig said.

It’s a significant task, but the DFL believe they have to play a role in pursuing the best practices in tackling social issues, but they keep a realistic head in their objectives.

“There is no ideal world or ideal football, Pfennig said.

“We are aware that we will have to adjust our goals, also taking into account the background of an enormous change in all areas of life. That’s why we need a framework and always work in improving our goals.”

The centralised method has been successful for the implementation of other initiatives such as Supporter Liaison Officer’s (SLOs) and improvement of youth academies.

These works, which are part of the DFL’s licensing framework, have been copied by other countries around the world and Australia should be keeping a keen eye on them.

While looking to Germany may be a good guide for improving fan to club relations and youth academy developments, they should especially look to follow their upcoming sustainability guidelines.

Australian clubs should be further focusing on improving their efforts towards sustainability, in a country which generally fails to meet any of those types of objectives.

It may be a difficult initial transition but clubs will eventually benefit from this push in the years to come.

Football Queensland’s Girls United to encourage female participation

FQ Girls United

Football Queensland have announced the establishment of Girls United programs to inspire greater female participation in the world game across the state.

Girls United will involve a series of targeted programs aiming to encourage women and girls’ participation in football throughout Queensland.

The range of programs will include Development Holiday Programs, social football programs and sessions designed specifically for older women and multicultural communities.

The Girls United Social Program has already been launched in Wide Bay and focuses on providing a social and relaxed setting to play football in.

Girls United Kick On for Women is a low-impact program that provides physical and mental health benefits for women returning to physical activity.

Girls United Celebrating Diversity is an inclusive program designed to eliminate the barriers faced by culturally and linguistically diverse communities in sport.

Kate Lawson, Football Queensland Women and Girls Participation Manager, encouraged women and girls of all ages and cultural backgrounds to get involved in a Girls United program, regardless of their experience in the game.

“Girls United involves a variety of programs to encourage new participants in a fun, low key, inclusive environment,” she said.

“The Girls United Development Holiday Programs will launch across the state in September, with sessions already locked in at Tarragindi Tigers in the Metro South zone, The Gap FC in the Metro North zone, Caloundra FC on the Sunshine Coast, and Endeavor Park in Cairns.

“The free programs are designed to upskill female participants and will include a MiniRoos coaching course, a Level 4 referee course, social games and a BBQ.

“Both events are open to women and girls aged 13 and over, whether they are newcomers to football or experienced players.

“We have already seen great success with this program at Bethania Rams FC in the Metro South zone and Football Queensland will continue to work closely with clubs throughout the state to ensure we have the appropriate structures in place to recruit new participants to the game.”

Football Queensland Chief Executive Officer Robert Cavallucci stated the launch of Girls United was an ongoing demonstration that FQ is delivering on the objectives outlined in the Women and Girls Strategy.

“Football Queensland is committed to creating new products for women and girls and developing female players, coaches and referees,” Cavallucci said.

“September will be a huge month for Football Queensland as we host the Kappa Women’s Super Cup Final and the celebration of 100 years of women’s football.

“As we look ahead to the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023, Football Queensland is determined to increase participation opportunities for women and girls throughout the state.”

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