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The coach speaks: One on one with Alen Stajcic

It was perhaps apt that my chat with former Matildas and now Central Coast Mariners manager Alen Stajcic was interrupted by an urgent call from the top brass in Gosford; such is the chaos of the times.

Stajcic agreed to chat about all things football in the present climate and the repercussions for the short and long term future of the game in Australia. I opened by asking the 46-year-old whether he held fears for the future of the game, both domestically and abroad.

Citing what he referred to as “the new normal”, Stajcic predicted considerable challenges on both landscapes as football enters a recovery period.

“It was pleasing to see most governments place health concerns over those of their economies, yet the financial implications of that will see football take a hit as well; being merely a microcosm of the world,” he said.

Rather astutely, Stajcic pointed out that, “At times like this it is the vulnerable and weak that will be exposed”. Once again referring not only to our communities, but also to the precarious financial position in which Australian football now finds itself.

I probed the former Sydney FC W-League manager as to the ramifications for the women’s top tier. He referred to the $16344 minimum wage and a likely decrease to it; in line with what their A-League counterparts will no doubt experience.

Stajcic recalled the early days of the league when “W-League clubs were primarily funded by the federations”. When the clubs themselves took over the funding and administrative arms in subsequent years, their reliance on broadcasting revenue became as paramount as that of the A-League competition.

Hence, with the existing broadcast deal between FFA and Foxtel seeming insecure and likely to be reshaped, Stajcic sees the immediate impact on both leagues as “significant and potentially life changing” for many players, coaches and staff.

I asked whether there could be something of a silver lining in international football, with a potential correction of wages that have spiralled to absurd levels in recent times. Whilst in notional agreement in regards to the EPL, LaLiga, Serie A and other major leagues, he also expressed a concern that a hypothetical 20 per cent correction could have disastrous implications for the A-League. Stajcic was adamant of the importance in “sustaining full-time professionalism in Australia.”

With many ex-Socceroos currently throwing their hat into the opinion ring and FFA convening the rather aptly named think tank, Starting IX, I quizzed Stajcic on the past. I wanted to know whether he felt the added weight currently being given to past players’ views was a help, or in fact a hindrance to the financial and structural challenges that lay ahead.

Stajcic was clear and categorical in his response, citing dangerous appointments of the past, where non-footballing executives were frequently appointed to prominent positions at FFA. He is hopeful for and thankful that James Johnson has taken the reigns and was clear in his desire for the governing body to emanate a “clear football voice with football people making the decisions that impact the game.”

According to Stajcic, a sticking point in the domestic game lies in the pathways to the elite level. “The pathways for young and promising players were far better in the NSL days. Outcomes are a direct result of those pathways.”

No doubt, that issue may well be placed on the back burner for the short term future, as Johnson and his board attempt to navigate their way through the mess that is COVID-19. However, Stajcic sees it as vital if Australia is to begin producing a greater array of elite level professionals, capable of playing in the world’s top leagues.

With the A-League eyeing a month long feast of football in August, I asked Stajcic how he would approach preparing his squad with fitness levels and continuity serious considerations.

“Due to the restrictions we have had in Australia, I think you will find many clubs will be in different situations, depending on the access to facilities the players had and will have within their own jurisdictions. Clubs will also have different goals and objectives when we return. A club like the Mariners are obviously looking to continue the rebuild, others may do the same.”

I rounded out the interview by asking the man still heavily invested in the fortunes of the Matildas, whether the Australia/New Zealand bid for the 2023 Women’s World Cup will seem more or less attractive to FIFA in the aftermath of the pandemic.

He replied, “I’m not sure how it could seem less attractive. There is little need to develop infrastructure as our stadiums can cope comfortably with such an event and Australia does seem more advanced in its recovery from COVID, compared to Brazil, Japan and Colombia who are also bidding for the event.”

With reports from Japan suggesting the pandemic still has some way to run its full course and Brazil having tragically lost over 11,600 citizens, Colombia and Australia may now well loom as the favourites in the race.

Hopefully Stajcic is correct in his summation of the potential success of the bid and that FIFA also see the benefits of hosting a World Cup down under for the first time. It would be one of the biggest sporting events in Australia’s history; one drawing revenue, investment and interest.

All stakeholders know just how important each of those things are in the business of football, Alen Stajcic included, particularly within the uncertain financial future that football in Australia must now navigate.

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Stuart Thomas is a trusted Journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on macro policy within Australasia and industry disruptions.

Football Queensland begin Female Football Week celebrations

Football Queensland have begun their state-wide celebration of Female Football Week, commemorating the game’s proud past, present and future.

The annual celebrations have heightened significance this year, in what is the centenary season of women’s football in Queensland.

“This year’s Female Football Week is a great opportunity to recognise and reflect on the extremely important role of women and girls in football’s past, present and especially its future,” FQ President Ben Richardson said.

“The incredible digital history museum FQ launched last week gives us all insights into the remarkable story of the women’s game here in Queensland, which kicked off with the momentous first public match at the Gabba on 24 September 1921.

“We are proud to bring greater attention to the 100-year anniversary by widely releasing our centenary season logo, which is another example of FQ’s commitment to embracing the game’s history and diversity.”

The governing body will release a series of videos this week showcasing the stories of past, present and future Queensland and Australian footballing heroes.

The state’s first Matildas captain, Sue Monteath, will be featured in the opening video.

Football Queensland will also shine a light on several ‘Women’s Football Champions’ who have contributed to the game and helped provide girls with opportunities at a grassroots level.

“This initiative gets to the core of what Female Football Week is all about by recognising those who share FQ’s passion for delivering inclusive, high-quality participation opportunities,” FQ CEO Robert Cavallucci said.

“With the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 approaching, it is more important than ever that the community unites behind FQ’s message that women and girls are the future.

“We made that clear in the Women and Girls Strategy 2021-2023 that was presented to political, sporting and football leaders at Parliament House on Tuesday.

“FQ is driving progress towards unlocking Queensland’s FIFA Women’s Cup 2023 legacy and Female Football Week continues to make a strong contribution to that journey.”

Female Football Week will conclude on the 8th of March.

Football Coaches Australia launch ‘The Football Coaching Life Podcast’ with Gary Cole

Football Coaches Australia (FCA) have launched a new podcast this week titled ‘The Football Coaching Life’ with former Socceroo Gary Cole hosting the series.

The podcast will look to highlight the stories behind the journeys of Australia’s football coaches, from current and former Socceroos and Matildas managers to those who coach at a community football level.

According to Cole, episodes of the podcast will showcase Australian coaches in a way that isn’t usually explored.

“When we hear from coaches it is usually before or after a game, a player signing, getting a job or losing a job,” he said.

“We have rarely asked them about the great adventure that is their coaching journey. We don’t necessarily understand why they do it, what success looks like, how they have grown and developed, what help they may have had along the way and so forth.

“We believe it is important that these stories are told and as you will learn (through the podcast) all of the coaches have been incredibly open and honest in talking about their journeys.”

Cole, a member of FCA’s Executive Committee, believes the information and insights that can be gathered throughout the conversations in the podcast will be extremely beneficial for up-and-coming coaches, as well as the wider football community.

“I think it’s very important for coaches to hear these conversations,” he stated.

“Our beautiful game has not done a great job of honouring the history of our game and by listening to these incredible men and women, coaches and the football community will gain a much greater insight into our amazing coaches.

“As well as this, they will have access to an incredible well of knowledge and wisdom that they can draw from.

“For example, understanding why it is so important to know why you want to do this, learning how important developing resilience is for coaching longevity and understanding what success looks like. I’ve been around Australian football for fifty years and I have been amazed at how much I have learned from these fantastic conversations.”

The first instalments of the podcast will see the former Socceroos assistant coach speak with some of Australia’s most successful coaches.

“The first episode is an amazing conversation with arguably Australia’s most successful coach in Ange Postecoglou, Head Coach at Yokohama F. Marinos. He was very generous with his time and this conversation was open, honest and filled with his great passion for our game,” Cole said.

“Episode two is with Tom Sermanni, Head Coach of the Football Ferns. Tom has a very relaxed and humorous style and talks about his growth and development as a coach.

“The wisdom in these two conversations is incredible! Both Ange and Tom have been to twelve FIFA World Cups between them, they are both still striving to improve their players, their teams and themselves.

“In episode three we talk with my very good friend and lifetime developer of both players and coaches, Dr Ron Smith, currently Technical Advisor at Football Australia. Ron talks in depth about the amazing work that was done in player development at the Australian Institute of Sport, in conjunction with the State Institutes of Sport and why it was successful. Ron also discusses changes in the game, including how analysis has changed aspects of the game.”

Other guests on the show include former Canberra United W-League coach and current FCA Vice President Heather Garriock, with many more from the women’s side of the game to feature, as the podcast aims to provide an overall perspective of the history of football coaching in Australia.

Making Media Australia director, Ralph Barba, who specialises in film and radio production, has supported Cole in delivering the project.

The first episode of the podcast, with Ange Postecoglou, is available here on Podbean, Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts.

 

Football Queensland to deliver Women’s World Cup legacy plan to Parliament

Football Queensland (FQ) will launch its three-year Women and Girls Strategy (2021-2023) at Parliament today, in a bid to increase participation, infrastructure and club developments before and after the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

“The forthcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup is a wonderful opportunity to deliver immediate and long-term football, community and economic benefits for our game and for all Queenslanders,” FQ President Ben Richardson said.

“More than 1 billion people watched the France 2019 tournament and this next event on home soil is destined to be biggest global event in Australia since Sydney 2000.

“It is crucial that FQ and the football community work with state and local government on maximising this immense potential.

“That is why we have developed a Women and Girls Strategy so closely linked to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, with clear goals and funding objectives for the game.”

Former Matilda Amy Chapman, who is currently on the FQ board, explained the upcoming opportunities to inspire young girls to get involved in football in Queensland.

“I am extremely proud to have represented my country at the highest level and I want more and more Queenslanders to enjoy that same experience,” Chapman said.

“We have a fantastic track record of developing international players in this state from the early days of the Matildas right up to now. There are strong, successful pathways in place.

“In the Women and Girls Strategy, FQ outlines our ambition for all Queensland state schools to support this by delivering football programs for girls.

“With support from key stakeholders including the State Government, we can deliver on what is a bold approach to developing homegrown stars and promoting healthy lifestyles.”

Tuesday’s Parliament House event will also begin the celebrations of the centenary season of women’s football in Queensland, with the first recorded female football match in the state taking place at the Gabba on September 24, 1921.

Football Queensland have introduced a new website looking at the game’s history in the state, with a digital museum documenting all of these significant moments.

“As we unite football in Queensland, FQ is extremely proud to embrace the game’s rich history,” FQ CEO Robert Cavallucci.

“The timing of the centenary season, together with the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, aligns perfectly with our stated belief and embraced position that women and girls are the future.

“We are continually rolling out participation, infrastructure and community initiatives that recognise this reality, support our clubs and grow the game, just as the Women and Girls Strategy will do.”

FQ’s Women and Girls Strategy for 2021-2023 document can be viewed here.

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