Infotainment Factory: Huge consequences of FFA's 'terrible' idea

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Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Huge consequences of FFA's 'terrible' idea


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Five months on from the coach sacking that turned Australian women's football on its head, we've reached a day of reckoning.

The Matildas went into the World Cup with the runs on the board over the past two years to be considered a genuine contender.

Then the sensational asterisk arrived. Out with the old, despite his unprecedented success as a coach of an Australian national team, and in with the new - Ante Milicic, a man with limited head coaching experience parachuted in from outside the Matildas set-up.

Foster: Stajcic saga an 'utter mess'

Only a fool would believe that kind of change would not be destabilising and the on-field results are already mounting evidence that this was a) a terrible idea, and b) executed horribly.

Alen Stajcic was not just dumped from the job, he was basically burnt at the stake and still the public isn't clear on exactly why.

So his ghost is allowed to linger over this campaign, which the world No.6 ranked Matildas are now at serious risk of limping out of at the group stage, even if a loss against Brazil in the early hours of tomorrow morning (AEST) doesn't completely condemn them to that fate.

The forgiving pool structure of this competition sees the four best third-placed teams through to the final 16, so a second pool stage loss could be overcome if the Matildas can get off the canvas in time to thump Jamaica next week.

However, from that point it would take a miracle for them to further progress, given they would draw an in-form pool winner; quite possibly the tournament hosts and favourites France.

For the key decision-makers within the FFA, the stakes could scarcely be higher.

From chairman Chris Nikou to the influential board member forced to backtrack on her scathing diatribe about Stajcic, Heather Reid, to long-serving CEO David Gallop, heads could roll should the Matildas spectacularly flame out of the World Cup under the fraught conditions served up by the administration.

A thorough review will be demanded and it won't just be Milicic's controversial new game plan that will go under an intense spotlight.

The Matildas have for several years been an easy-on-the-eye attacking team, but Stacjic built that from the foundation of a robust and flexible defensive set-up capable of denying even the great teams like world No.1 USA.

They rarely conceded more than two goals in 2017 or 2018 and when they did, they could fall back on the Sam Kerr-led frontline to score more, building confidence with a 3-2 win over Brazil in 2017 and a 4-3 victory over Norway in 2018.

Make no mistake, Stajcic was not axed for what the Matildas were doing on the field. Even if there was a culture issue that needed to be dealt with, it wasn't bleeding beyond the white lines.

Which brings us to Milicic, a highly-rated assistant coach at the Socceroos given the unenviable task of taking over a side at the peak of its powers. It's almost the impossible job. Anything short of a World Cup semi-final appearance, harsh as it sounds, is a disappointment if not a failure given the position the side was in when he took over.

Yet the very fact that he took over a side in such good nick and with so little time to make his mark should perhaps have guided him to stick close to the blueprint Stajcic had embedded, rather than impose his own philosophy.

If that was his intention, it certainly hasn't looked that way.

The warning signs were there for all to see, with the Matildas copping five goals in a loss to the USA in April, then getting smacked 3-0 in their final World Cup warm-up game to a Holland side sitting two spots below them in the world rankings.

So it shouldn't have come as a massive surprise when their goal was under almost constant threat against Italy before eventually losing 2-1 to a late winner.

Still, it brought to the surface huge questions over Milicic's decision to completely change how the Matildas set-up, with a newly implemented high defensive line the most curious feature.

"It’s disastrous," Matildas legend Heather Garriock said after the Italy match as part of the Optus Sport coverage.

"I’m so upset. More for the fact of the style in which we played the second half and we touched on it at the start of the game, this high line is absolutely ridiculous.

"If you think as a coach you can come in and change your philosophy, and change the style within five matches. We have just been crucified, not once but twice.

Foster: Matildas form slump 'worrying'

"And so many times they were offside and we could have been scored against more than that. And we’ve got a 15th ranked side, and we’re ranked 6th in the world and they’ve just beaten us.

"If we had a better side playing against us tonight it would have been more than five. I’m so disappointed, more disappointed in his subs as well."

That commentary isn't just a reflection on Milicic's coaching, it comes back to the frustration and anger that the football community is feeling about the Stacjic sacking and the unshakeable feeling that five months ago the FFA killed the goose that lay the golden egg.

This World Cup is the ultimate litmus test of that decision and all the decisions that have come since; most notably Milicic's appointment.

Under Stajcic, the Matildas built an edge over Brazil. Milicic must attempt to replicate that edge to rebuild a crumbling campaign.

If he fails, there's a long line of FFA heavies who may well fall victim to Stajcic's ghost.

Five months on from the coach sacking that turned Australian women's football on its head, we've reached a day of reckoning.

The Matildas went into the World Cup with the runs on the board over the past two years to be considered a genuine contender.

Then the sensational asterisk arrived. Out with the old, despite his unprecedented success as a coach of an Australian national team, and in with the new - Ante Milicic, a man with limited head coaching experience parachuted in from outside the Matildas set-up.

Foster: Stajcic saga an 'utter mess'

Only a fool would believe that kind of change would not be destabilising and the on-field results are already mounting evidence that this was a) a terrible idea, and b) executed horribly.

Alen Stajcic was not just dumped from the job, he was basically burnt at the stake and still the public isn't clear on exactly why.

So his ghost is allowed to linger over this campaign, which the world No.6 ranked Matildas are now at serious risk of limping out of at the group stage, even if a loss against Brazil in the early hours of tomorrow morning (AEST) doesn't completely condemn them to that fate.

The forgiving pool structure of this competition sees the four best third-placed teams through to the final 16, so a second pool stage loss could be overcome if the Matildas can get off the canvas in time to thump Jamaica next week.

However, from that point it would take a miracle for them to further progress, given they would draw an in-form pool winner; quite possibly the tournament hosts and favourites France.

For the key decision-makers within the FFA, the stakes could scarcely be higher.

From chairman Chris Nikou to the influential board member forced to backtrack on her scathing diatribe about Stajcic, Heather Reid, to long-serving CEO David Gallop, heads could roll should the Matildas spectacularly flame out of the World Cup under the fraught conditions served up by the administration.

A thorough review will be demanded and it won't just be Milicic's controversial new game plan that will go under an intense spotlight.

The Matildas have for several years been an easy-on-the-eye attacking team, but Stacjic built that from the foundation of a robust and flexible defensive set-up capable of denying even the great teams like world No.1 USA.

They rarely conceded more than two goals in 2017 or 2018 and when they did, they could fall back on the Sam Kerr-led frontline to score more, building confidence with a 3-2 win over Brazil in 2017 and a 4-3 victory over Norway in 2018.

Make no mistake, Stajcic was not axed for what the Matildas were doing on the field. Even if there was a culture issue that needed to be dealt with, it wasn't bleeding beyond the white lines.

Which brings us to Milicic, a highly-rated assistant coach at the Socceroos given the unenviable task of taking over a side at the peak of its powers. It's almost the impossible job. Anything short of a World Cup semi-final appearance, harsh as it sounds, is a disappointment if not a failure given the position the side was in when he took over.

Yet the very fact that he took over a side in such good nick and with so little time to make his mark should perhaps have guided him to stick close to the blueprint Stajcic had embedded, rather than impose his own philosophy.

If that was his intention, it certainly hasn't looked that way.

The warning signs were there for all to see, with the Matildas copping five goals in a loss to the USA in April, then getting smacked 3-0 in their final World Cup warm-up game to a Holland side sitting two spots below them in the world rankings.

So it shouldn't have come as a massive surprise when their goal was under almost constant threat against Italy before eventually losing 2-1 to a late winner.

Still, it brought to the surface huge questions over Milicic's decision to completely change how the Matildas set-up, with a newly implemented high defensive line the most curious feature.

"It’s disastrous," Matildas legend Heather Garriock said after the Italy match as part of the Optus Sport coverage.

"I’m so upset. More for the fact of the style in which we played the second half and we touched on it at the start of the game, this high line is absolutely ridiculous.

"If you think as a coach you can come in and change your philosophy, and change the style within five matches. We have just been crucified, not once but twice.

Foster: Matildas form slump 'worrying'

"And so many times they were offside and we could have been scored against more than that. And we’ve got a 15th ranked side, and we’re ranked 6th in the world and they’ve just beaten us.

"If we had a better side playing against us tonight it would have been more than five. I’m so disappointed, more disappointed in his subs as well."

That commentary isn't just a reflection on Milicic's coaching, it comes back to the frustration and anger that the football community is feeling about the Stacjic sacking and the unshakeable feeling that five months ago the FFA killed the goose that lay the golden egg.

This World Cup is the ultimate litmus test of that decision and all the decisions that have come since; most notably Milicic's appointment.

Under Stajcic, the Matildas built an edge over Brazil. Milicic must attempt to replicate that edge to rebuild a crumbling campaign.

If he fails, there's a long line of FFA heavies who may well fall victim to Stajcic's ghost.

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