Tony Gustavsson – The Missing Piece in the Matildas Jigsaw?

In the second part of our occasional World Cup 2023 countdown feature on the state of the game in Australia, co-hosts of the tournament, Ben Gilby looks at the appointment of former USNWT assistant Tony Gustavsson as the head coach of the Australian national side.

Above: Tony Gustavsson following his unveiling as the Matildas’ new head coach. Photo: @TheMatildas

The Football Federation Australia recently announced Tony Gustavsson as the new head coach of the Matildas.

The appointment was a huge one in the context of Australia facing the Olympic Games, Asia Cup and hosting the Women’s World Cup between now and the end of 2023.

The Swede, who previously worked alongside both Jill Ellis and Pia Sundhage with the US National Women’s team (USNWT) with great success in two World Cups was appointed after a long search with coaches of the calibre of Emma Hayes, Joe Montemurro and Caroline Morace all strongly linked with the post.

Forty-seven year-old Gustavsson was born in Sundsvall, where he started his playing career in 1989 a sixteen year playing career ended with him taking charge of Degerfors IF men’s side in the second tier of the Swedish game. He then took over at top tier side Hammarby IF and led the Stockholm side into the UEFA Cup.

The new Matildas coach took his first coaching position in women’s football with Tyreso FF and immediately led them to the top flight championship. Two years later, under Gustavsson, Tyreso FF made the UEFA Women’s Champions League Final where they went down 4-3 to mighty Wolfsburg. His success with Tyreso attracted the attention of the USNWT which saw him help to shape a team that won the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015 and 2019.

After his appointment, Gustavsson told what immediately attracted him to the job: “The Federation are showing that they are willing to invest in women’s football. We have the 2023 World Cup and a wonderful player pool. It’s a group that can get to the next level. There’s also the next generation coming through.”

“I am really proud and extremely excited. I’ve seen how much the team means to the country. I’m proud to lead your much loved Matildas. We have a big four years ahead of us and I’m excited for a journey with the team and an amazing group of fans. I can’t wait to get started.”

Above: Gustafsson at the start of his coaching career where he had success in his native Sweden before heading to the USA. Photo: Wikipedia.

The Swede outlined how he wanted to shape the Australian side: “I’m a very passionate person and passionate coach. We want to create a legacy that is bigger than winning. Every team can win when they play good, but you have to find a way of winning when you do not play good. I want to put this game management into the Matildas.”

Having coached both men’s and women’s football, Gustavsson identified how he saw the differences: “It’s not about whether you are working with a boy or girl, it’s about how you reach that person or group’s full potential. The players in the women’s side are more appreciative and professional. I have a slogan – do you want to get one day better or one day older and I feel the women always want to be one day better.”

He then turned to what he feels his new squad need to do in order to reach the top level of the sport: “The Matildas have this never say die attitude. There is always a fighting spirit in the team. As a coach that’s always the most important thing to have in a team, and that’s already there with the Matildas. There’s two things I’d like to add – first, the players need to believe how good they are and how good they can become and that comes important in those biggest games. The second is game management and tactics. Whatever the circumstances, we always have to find a way to win.”

“I call football the green field of chess. I started being overambitious with players and tactics. The question is what do the Matildas have and how can we take advantage of that and the chemistry and relationships. Titles are won and loss inside eighteens. The improvement inside the attacking and defensive eighteen.”

Over the past six months or so virtually the whole national side have left their clubs in Australia to play in Europe. For Gustavsson this is only an advantage – both for the established stars and for those playing in state and W-League football within Australia: “There are two advantages to us having so many players in Europe now. A lot of players get to experience training in a quality environment with other quality players. They get to be challenged in training and in games that are tough and there are lots of games. They get to be exposed to the European style and hopefully lots get to play Champions League football. The other advantage is having players playing in Australia – the next generation in Australia that will now get to play games regularly here to move up and challenge.”

In terms of where Australia stand in the international pecking order of women’s football, the Swede was hugely positive: “Is there a gap between us and the USA or top European national sides? If you look at the rosters and the potential in this team maybe there is not.”

Gustavsson ended by highlighting his immediate plans in his new position: “The first thing for me is to watch as many players as possible and get to know the staff. I need a team behind the team otherwise I am nothing. I then need to scout the player pool. I need 23 players in 2023. Depth in the roster is the key moving forward. A football journey is about creating new memories together with people. I love to work closely with players, staff, fans, stakeholders to create a legacy of winning. The journey means a lot to me.”

Tony Gustavsson’s words at the press conference were hugely impressive and mark him out as a great motivator of players who “gets” the unique esteem that The Matildas are held in – they are hugely loved and respected in a sport mad country. His appointment is potentially an inspired choice by the FFA for the biggest four years in Australian women’s football history. The time for action has come, as has the time for The Matildas to reach their undoubted potential.

Above: Tony Gustavsson will be hoping there’ll be plenty more for Sam Kerr and her team mates to celebrate in the coming three years. Photo: @TheMatildas

Miss the first part of our occasional series on the game in Australia as part of the 2023 World Cup countdown? Click here: and:

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