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.