Infotainment Factory: How Matildas moved on from their sacked coach

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Saturday, 9 March 2019

How Matildas moved on from their sacked coach


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It was a tumultuous beginning to 2019 for the Matildas with the shock departure of their longtime coach, but after a ship-steadying Cup of Nations victory, remarkably the clouds look to have already cleared, the team is closer than ever and there’s immense excitement building as the Matildas aim to achieve an incredible sporting first for Australia.

The air of confidence that buzzed around AAMI Park after their 3-0 win over Argentina on Wednesday night in Melbourne to hoist the Cup of Nations trophy was hard to ignore, even long after the smoke from the celebratory pyrotechnics faded.

When captain and goalscoring machine Sam Kerr lifted the silverware it was a brief taste of the scenes we could be treated to in just a few months time when the Matildas compete in the Women’s World Cup.

The team is going to France with one thing in mind – win it all – and they’re tipped as one of the favourites to do just that.

Sam Kerr

They’ve got the talent, they’ve got the experience, and they’ve now got the form. But you couldn’t write a more quintessential Australian football script in the lead-up.

Drama and football go hand in hand when it comes to Australian football it seems, and these last few months, fans were reminded that the women’s game is not immune.

The FFA stunned Matildas supporters when they announced that head coach Alen Stajcic had been dismissed. Few saw it coming, and by his own account, neither did Stajcic himself.

The former Matildas coach said the “approximately 20-minutes” discussion with the FFA, immediately after which he was sacked, was the first instance he had been informed of criticism about overseeing a “toxic culture”. Stajcic said he was not shown the details of the confidential player surveys conducted as part of the PFA and Our Watch reports and was still unclear on exactly why his contract was so suddenly terminated.

The FFA meanwhile blamed Stajcic for encouraging a win at all costs mentality, and reports that followed the dismissal news accused Matildas coaches of fostering an environment of fear, pressuring some players to play when injured, and alleged homophobic slurs were commonplace.

Alen Stajcic

The lack of official details from FFA, and the repeated insistence on maintaining the confidentiality of the player interviews only encouraged speculative whispers, a point which Stajcic later said caused “irreparable damage” to his reputation as the “firestorm and innuendo” continued. 

As devoted Australian football fans were kept in the dark, it became difficult to understand how a coach who led the Matildas to a record world no.4 ranking, and the greatest period of growth and on-field success in the team’s history could have been so hastily punted.

Then came the reaction of equal disbelief from Matildas players, which only confused the media and public further. A total of 18 players took to social media expressing their shock, and they all spoke fondly of the coaching and mentorship Stajcic had provided them in their football careers.

Even before all this upheaval, the trust and respect the players had for Stajcic was clear. Numerous Matildas players had directly credited Stajcic for his tough love approach in developing their game and pushing them to be the best players they could be.

Ante-Milicic

It was a nightmare situation for a team that was trying to snowball its momentum toward their Women’s World Cup campaign. Instead of gaining attention for their on-field performances and build hype among their supporters, the media swarmed FFA press conferences demanding answers about Stajcic’s sacking.

FFA didn’t look back despite the noise, and a new coach was appointed a few weeks later.

Ante Milicic was the choice; the former right-hand man to ex-Socceroos coach, Ange Postecoglou. Milicic was known in football circles a successful former player, and a hands-on, well-respected, and highly-qualified coach. Credited as having a key role in the development of the Socceroos during his time as assistant, with Postecoglou being the watchful, strategic eye, and Milicic the vocal leader of the troops, getting them meticulously prepared in training. Milicic may have a serious and somewhat ‘bah-humbug’ exterior - not too dissimilar to Postecoglou or Stajcic - but few questioned his resume and suitability for a head coach position.

There were some doubts over whether he could bring out the best in a female football team though, because the former Socceroo had never coached in the women’s game. Depending on who you spoke to in the football community, this fact was either a major flaw, or completely irrelevant. But so close to a Women’s World Cup, it had to be a consideration.

Matildas seal Cup of Nations title

The Cup of Nations would be telling. Given merely two weeks to train with his new squad of players before taking the reins in a vital pre-World Cup tournament, Milicic and the Matildas delivered. The players came together in camp and somehow the group galvanised amidst all the turmoil, and Milicic was seemingly embraced.

There were some changes made on the pitch, as Milicic tinkered and stamped his mark on the team, but most importantly the runs were on the board – a 2-0 win over New Zealand, a 4-1 win over South Korea and a title-sealing 3-0 win over Argentina.

After Wednesday’s match Milicic’s comments describing the performance as “sluggish” and “naïve” suggested he’s not content. He believes there’s still plenty of work to be done and he’s not afraid to keep demanding more from the Matildas.

Sources close to the team revealed to Wide World of Sports that players relished the new aspects to training that Milicic brought to the Matildas. With his experience in the men’s game, Milicic set greater challenges for some players in training and sources say they thrived in those conditions, which is only pushing them to be better - not women’s or men’s footballers, just better footballers, period.

Milicic had made something click within the team, and the already tightknit group made his job easier by not wasting energy lingering on the Stajcic news, no matter their close relationship with him, and the players focused on the task at hand. It is what Staj would probably have wanted them to do in that situation too.

And now the team’s gaze is cast to the big picture challenge ahead – winning a World Cup.

A greater test awaits next month in a friendly with current world champions, the USA, and that tune-up will further reveal exactly where the Milicic-led Matildas are placed, but going off recent performances the high hopes held before Stajcic’s sacking have not been downgraded by any means under the new coach, and that can only be a positive, not just for women’s football, but Australian football as a whole.

It was a tumultuous beginning to 2019 for the Matildas with the shock departure of their longtime coach, but after a ship-steadying Cup of Nations victory, remarkably the clouds look to have already cleared, the team is closer than ever and there’s immense excitement building as the Matildas aim to achieve an incredible sporting first for Australia.

The air of confidence that buzzed around AAMI Park after their 3-0 win over Argentina on Wednesday night in Melbourne to hoist the Cup of Nations trophy was hard to ignore, even long after the smoke from the celebratory pyrotechnics faded.

When captain and goalscoring machine Sam Kerr lifted the silverware it was a brief taste of the scenes we could be treated to in just a few months time when the Matildas compete in the Women’s World Cup.

The team is going to France with one thing in mind – win it all – and they’re tipped as one of the favourites to do just that.

Sam Kerr

They’ve got the talent, they’ve got the experience, and they’ve now got the form. But you couldn’t write a more quintessential Australian football script in the lead-up.

Drama and football go hand in hand when it comes to Australian football it seems, and these last few months, fans were reminded that the women’s game is not immune.

The FFA stunned Matildas supporters when they announced that head coach Alen Stajcic had been dismissed. Few saw it coming, and by his own account, neither did Stajcic himself.

The former Matildas coach said the “approximately 20-minutes” discussion with the FFA, immediately after which he was sacked, was the first instance he had been informed of criticism about overseeing a “toxic culture”. Stajcic said he was not shown the details of the confidential player surveys conducted as part of the PFA and Our Watch reports and was still unclear on exactly why his contract was so suddenly terminated.

The FFA meanwhile blamed Stajcic for encouraging a win at all costs mentality, and reports that followed the dismissal news accused Matildas coaches of fostering an environment of fear, pressuring some players to play when injured, and alleged homophobic slurs were commonplace.

Alen Stajcic

The lack of official details from FFA, and the repeated insistence on maintaining the confidentiality of the player interviews only encouraged speculative whispers, a point which Stajcic later said caused “irreparable damage” to his reputation as the “firestorm and innuendo” continued. 

As devoted Australian football fans were kept in the dark, it became difficult to understand how a coach who led the Matildas to a record world no.4 ranking, and the greatest period of growth and on-field success in the team’s history could have been so hastily punted.

Then came the reaction of equal disbelief from Matildas players, which only confused the media and public further. A total of 18 players took to social media expressing their shock, and they all spoke fondly of the coaching and mentorship Stajcic had provided them in their football careers.

Even before all this upheaval, the trust and respect the players had for Stajcic was clear. Numerous Matildas players had directly credited Stajcic for his tough love approach in developing their game and pushing them to be the best players they could be.

Ante-Milicic

It was a nightmare situation for a team that was trying to snowball its momentum toward their Women’s World Cup campaign. Instead of gaining attention for their on-field performances and build hype among their supporters, the media swarmed FFA press conferences demanding answers about Stajcic’s sacking.

FFA didn’t look back despite the noise, and a new coach was appointed a few weeks later.

Ante Milicic was the choice; the former right-hand man to ex-Socceroos coach, Ange Postecoglou. Milicic was known in football circles a successful former player, and a hands-on, well-respected, and highly-qualified coach. Credited as having a key role in the development of the Socceroos during his time as assistant, with Postecoglou being the watchful, strategic eye, and Milicic the vocal leader of the troops, getting them meticulously prepared in training. Milicic may have a serious and somewhat ‘bah-humbug’ exterior - not too dissimilar to Postecoglou or Stajcic - but few questioned his resume and suitability for a head coach position.

There were some doubts over whether he could bring out the best in a female football team though, because the former Socceroo had never coached in the women’s game. Depending on who you spoke to in the football community, this fact was either a major flaw, or completely irrelevant. But so close to a Women’s World Cup, it had to be a consideration.

Matildas seal Cup of Nations title

The Cup of Nations would be telling. Given merely two weeks to train with his new squad of players before taking the reins in a vital pre-World Cup tournament, Milicic and the Matildas delivered. The players came together in camp and somehow the group galvanised amidst all the turmoil, and Milicic was seemingly embraced.

There were some changes made on the pitch, as Milicic tinkered and stamped his mark on the team, but most importantly the runs were on the board – a 2-0 win over New Zealand, a 4-1 win over South Korea and a title-sealing 3-0 win over Argentina.

After Wednesday’s match Milicic’s comments describing the performance as “sluggish” and “naïve” suggested he’s not content. He believes there’s still plenty of work to be done and he’s not afraid to keep demanding more from the Matildas.

Sources close to the team revealed to Wide World of Sports that players relished the new aspects to training that Milicic brought to the Matildas. With his experience in the men’s game, Milicic set greater challenges for some players in training and sources say they thrived in those conditions, which is only pushing them to be better - not women’s or men’s footballers, just better footballers, period.

Milicic had made something click within the team, and the already tightknit group made his job easier by not wasting energy lingering on the Stajcic news, no matter their close relationship with him, and the players focused on the task at hand. It is what Staj would probably have wanted them to do in that situation too.

And now the team’s gaze is cast to the big picture challenge ahead – winning a World Cup.

A greater test awaits next month in a friendly with current world champions, the USA, and that tune-up will further reveal exactly where the Milicic-led Matildas are placed, but going off recent performances the high hopes held before Stajcic’s sacking have not been downgraded by any means under the new coach, and that can only be a positive, not just for women’s football, but Australian football as a whole.

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