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.