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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.

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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.

The gaping holes in Australia’s football history – Soccerscene’s exclusive interview with football writer and researcher Greg Werner

When I asked Greg Werner why he was interested in researching and recording the grassroots clubs of each and every Socceroo and Matilda, his answer was simple.

“It was born out of frustration, frustration that the largest sector of the game in this country was being ignored.”

In 2014, the Sutherland Shire based writer set about righting that ship and his journey continues to this very day. Over the last five years, Werner has ventured to all points of the domestic compass in an attempt to shed light on the origins of Australia’s representative footballers and in an effort to flesh out Australia’s footballing story.

His travels led to an unexpected publication, yet his passion to create a more in depth and detailed narrative of the Australian game has always been the most powerful driver behind what is a bold and broad reaching vision.

The trigger for the time consuming and often frustrating quest was an SBS piece on the Matilda, Servet Uzunlar. Werner recalls it vividly.

“I discovered during the segment that Unzular grew up playing in the same association in which I had spent 10 years playing & coaching. I asked myself why. If I was unaware of such a wonderful local players’ presence, how much else had escaped me?”

By extension, the key question for Werner became, “How many clubs were going completely unacknowledged for their contribution to our national teams.”

Such are the holes in the Australian footballing narrative and oft is the point made that the game existed on the national sporting landscape well before the heroics of the Socceroos at the 1974 World Cup. Equally emblematic of a poorly recorded history is the fact that many young A-League fans appear somewhat ignorant of the glory days of the NSL and the contributions made by community clubs during that period.

Greg Werner chats with former Socceroo Manager Ange Postecoglou in 2018.

Werner’s ambition focusses specifically on the individual players who have worn national colours; those whose early years of development are often overlooked and unrecorded at the expense of the contemporary concerns of the team they represented.

I put Werner’s claim that “If you are to go to just about any player’s Wikipedia entry you would think that they did not start playing until the age of 15,” to the test and in most cases, it proved correct.

Appearing as something of an enormous task, I asked Werner where he began.

“I started with what I knew from conversations on the side lines of the Shire and personal experience. The Griffiths brothers (Joel, Adam and Ryan) played at Menai, Graham ‘Arnie’ Arnold played at Gwawley Bay, Murray Barnes began at Kissing Point & my best mate Richie Bell started with Cronulla RSL.”

“Beginning with those bare bones, I realised there were only 800 more players to research,” recounted Werner with something of a tired chuckle.

“The search for answers began with Facebook, and was continued on the side lines of international training sessions, after A & W-League games, at NPL matches and even at FFA Cup and Champion of Champions finals. It also, beyond everything else, involved thousands of hours trawling through programs, magazines and newspapers going back to whenever.”

Werner has seen every major Socceroos game in Sydney since 1969, bar the disaster of 1981 and every home Matildas game since 2015.

It was the insistence of Fox Sports commentator Andy Harper that Werner’s mission would only be taken seriously with a supporting website to present the material. Now overflowing with history and memory, http://www.grassrootsfootballproject.com/ presents the accumulated research in a written and visual form.

The Grassroots Football Project logo.

Perhaps both the intention behind and the potential impact of the Grassroots Football Project is best encapsulated in Werner’s own words, “I have had the absolute honour of meeting men who were my footballing heroes and men whom I had never even heard of before the GFP.”

Such a sentiment now extends to the women’s game and no doubt the next generation of female players currently competing in junior play will be advantaged by the opportunity to read about the pioneering Matildas; those women who paved the untrodden and difficult path towards support and acceptance of the women’s game.

Werner with former Matildas Renaye Iserief, Janine McPhee, Sunni Hughes and Julie Murray.

The collated facts and data proved too enticing for renowned publisher of football books Fairplay Publishing to ignore. Werner became a co-author of the Encyclopaedia of Matildas; a visually stunning text that journeys through the history of the team and the women at the core of its success.

“It was an honour to have been given the opportunity to co-author the text and also beyond my wildest dreams. Now my dreams have shifted and I already have another book in the works and the one after that is already in the planning.”

Research has sent Werner to hundreds of gatherings in recent years.

“When Brazil toured here in 2017, I took the day off work to go to Newcastle to the first Matildas Reunion, a gathering of 60 players from all over the country. That night I added almost 20 entries to my list and had the best night of my footballing life apart from November 16th 2005. I left there at 1am to drive home to Cronulla, dealing with 40kph speed zones all the way down the freeway.

I have had the honour of spending time with some of the legends of the Australian game.”

Not seeking personal gain, Werner’s simple ambition is to “change the way the powers that be regard the most important clubs in the country,” and in turn “to make the history of our game relevant”.

It is an admirable and bold endeavour and one destined to continue.

“The GFP was never designed to be completed, for as long as internationals were being played, new players would be picked. My only aim was that their stories would be told, something which is now starting to be done. The end game would be that a plaque would be placed at the home ground of each of these clubs to make tangible their contribution.”

Something tells me that Greg Werner’s passion and energy may well make those plaques a reality. What a fitting tribute they would be to the grassroots clubs that have provided the Socceroos and Matildas with such wonderful players and people throughout Australia’s footballing history.

Why an Australian football Netflix series is needed

Netflix boast just under 200 million subscribers worldwide and have released several sports documentaries over the last few years. However, we are yet to see an Australian football Netflix series – an opportunity that should be taken advantage of.

There is a market for these types of documentaries as Netflix is not the only streaming service that features sport docuseries. Amazon Prime has produced also produced documentaries on Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.

One of the most popular football docuseries has been Netflix’s Sunderland ‘Til I Die. The show which provided a behind the scenes view of the club was one of the most watched programs on Netflix in the UK during the week of the release of the second season.

Sunderland has received global recognition off the back of the popularity of the show.

Stewart Donald, owner and former chairman of Sunderland told ChronicleLive that there are lots of reasons why the documentary is good for the club.

“My initial thought with it was, there aren’t many football clubs that can have a global brand, but if you’ve got a Netflix documentary and it goes right, you can get that out to the world and maybe you might get a few people who come along and get emotionally involved in Sunderland who otherwise wouldn’t have,” he said.

“If our name goes out to 20 or 30 million people on Netflix, or however many it might be, that can only be good for the club.”

There are several possibilities for an Australian football docuseries. The show could follow a single A-League club’s season, in the same vein to the Sunderland or Manchester City programs.

Other documentaries have focused on a season of a series or championship as a whole. Netflix’s Formula 1 docuseries Drive to Survive involves several different teams and features a different storyline each episode.

One million households streamed Drive to Survive within the first 28 days of season two’s release according to research agency Digital-i.

An A-League version of this could cover the biggest storylines and moments of the season.

Documentaries have also focused on the national team of a sporing organisation such as Amazon Prime’s The Test which documents the Australian cricket team’s redemption following the ball tampering scandal in 2018.

A series that follows the qualification process of an Australian team for a FIFA World Cup would be a particularly interesting documentary series given the high stakes involved.

The exposure gained from an Australian football Netflix series could be a great opportunity to either introduce people to Australian football or reinvigorate their love for the game.

Drive to Survive has seen an increase an interest for the sport in the US, which is not a traditional market for Formula 1.

Earlier this year Renault Formula 1 Driver Daniel Ricciardo appeared on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah where he discussed the impact that Drive to Survive has had in the US.

“I definitely feel F1 is becoming much more of a thing here in the States. Drive to Survive put it on the map,” he said.

“I spend a bit of time in the States, and up until a year ago, not really anyone would say ‘Hi’ to me – not in a bad way, but they wouldn’t recognise me for being an F1 driver.

“And now it’s all: ‘We saw you on Netflix, it was great, Drive to Survive.’ We wear helmets, so not many people can see our faces a lot of the time.

Given the younger demographic of streaming service users, a docuseries could create a new generation of fans for football in Australia. Depending on the success of the series, it could even inspire more young Australians to play the world game.

At an event for 188Bet in March 2020, F1’s Managing Director of Motorsport Ross Brawn, said that the Netflix series had seen positive impacts for the sport.

“What we’ve discovered is it’s been very appealing to the non race fan: in fact it turned them into race fans,” Brawn said.

“Some of the promoters in the past season have said they’ve definitely measured the increase in interest in F1 that has come from the Netflix series.

“And while Netflix in itself wasn’t for us a hugely profitable venture, in terms of giving greater coverage for F1, it’s been fantastic.

While Football Federation Australia, the A-League and its clubs would not be able to demand the millions of dollars that other clubs and organisations are paid for their participation in a documentary, it could provide a cash boost for the organisations.

Ryan Reynolds has partnered with fellow actor Rob McElhenney to purchase Welsh soccer club Wrexham AFC, who compete in the fifth tier of English football, the National League.

Part of Reynolds and McElhenney’s takeover bid involves plans for a documentary series that follows the events of the team.

Bloomberg spoke to Ampere Analysis analyst Richard Broughton, who said that it would not be unreasonable for a streaming service to pay several hundred thousand pounds per hour for the broadcast rights to a show.

An Australian football Netflix series would be extremely beneficial for the sport in this country.

Australian football needs to further explore the potential of Twitch

Twitch continues to be one of the world’s leading platforms to live stream content and Australian football should build their presence on the service.

The FFA launched the E-League in 2018, a competitive Esports league where professional gamers played and represented A-League clubs in the FIFA video game series.

The league is broadcast on the Amazon subsidiary Twitch, with viewing numbers impressive across the board.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the opening night of the E-League saw 138,000 people tuning into the show, a figure which was bigger than most A-League games in the past few years.

Speaking at the time of the launch, former FFA head of commercial, digital and marketing, Luke Bould, explained that the idea behind the E-League was to attract a younger audience and build awareness of the A-League’s brand.

“We’re being entrepreneurial, we’re taking a risk. We have to be there and for us it’s a strategic advantage, there’s a million plus people playing this game and we don’t have enough fans of the A-League. We can try and influence them through this media,” he told SMH.

Bould claimed the E-league’s opening night attracted a larger social media following than any other streamed event covered by the FFA (including Bert van Marwijk’s unveiling before the 2018 World Cup).

“That’s the strongest thing we’ve ever done in terms of social platforms, whether it’s live press conferences, it’s by far the strongest thing we’ve ever done,” he said.

Fast forward two years, the E-League now has over 6,000 followers on Twitch and just under four million video views.

The Esports competition has engaged fans successfully on Twitch, but there are more options that Australian football can take advantage of on the platform.

Those in charge could develop strategies to encourage the sizeable E-League fanbase to further engage with real life A-League content, on the same service.

The issue is, there is no official A-League account on the live-streaming service.

The absence of this could be seen as a missed opportunity.

La Liga recently became one of the first major European sports competitions to join Twitch.

On the service, they now broadcast behind the scene’s footage, preview and review shows, special programs on featured players in the competition and much more.

The Spanish competition’s partnership with Twitch also allows for collaboration opportunities which benefits the streaming community.

Could the A-League enter a similar partnership on a smaller scale?

Since Fox Sports has currently cut back on producing A-League magazine shows, it could address a current hole in the market.

Producing exclusive real-life content on Twitch could also see more young football fans flocking to the platform, in addition to those who are already interested in the E-League competition.

It helps that Twitch is an extremely popular platform for a young audience (a market which Australian football administrators are currently targeting), particularly male.

According to Globalwebindex, 73% of Twitch users are aged between 16-34, with 65% of all users being male.

Another possibility for the Australian game is to follow the likes of famous clubs such as Real Madrid and Juventus, as well as leagues such as the English Premier League, in broadcasting live matches on the platform.

Real Madrid and Juventus have their own channels on the service and they have broadcast friendlies and youth team matches.

The English Premier League live-streamed matches on Twitch for UK users earlier this year for the first time.

With murmurs that the FFA Cup is set to be broadcast on YouTube next season, it may not be the worst idea to showcase some of those games on Twitch instead.

It would open up potential commercial opportunities for the present and the future, on a platform where Australian football needs to increase its visibility.

It could not only benefit A-League clubs, but also maximize the exposure for NPL clubs competing in the cup competition.

If Australian football is serious about its focus on engaging a digital audience, Twitch needs to be further entrenched in its plans.

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