Gustavsson: It’s Time To Draw A Line In The Sand

Impetus’ Kieran Yap was in Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson‘s squad announcement media conference for us yesterday as The Matildas prepare to play Canada next month (18/8/22).

Above: Tony Gustavsson, pictured prior to the match with Spain in June, is narrowing his focus in terms of squad selection. Photo: Football Australia.

Some familiar names return to The Matildas as Tony Gustavsson commits to narrowing his focus a year out from the World Cup.

Steph Catley, Caitlin Foord, Sam Kerr, and Aivi Luik return to the squad. They are joined by Manchester City’s Matildas trio of Hayley Raso, Alanna Kennedy, and Mary Fowler.

Kyah Simon will continue to recover from an ankle injury with Tottenham Hostpur. Likewise, Elise Kellond-Knight will remain with Hammarby in Sweden as she continues her return to action.

Above: Australia’s bright young star Mary Fowler, now of Manchester City, is back in the Matildas line-up. Photo: Kris Goman for Impetus.

Gustavsson explained to the media that the beginning of his tenure was dedicated to addressing the depth of the squad. In that time Australia have uncovered or developed Charli Grant, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Courtney Nevin, and Mary Fowler into senior players, while testing many more.  However, the focus has now shifted.

“We wanted to kind of draw a line in the sand after these 18 months,” he said at the squad announcement.

“When I started, we said ‘let’s invest 18 months in the Gap Report. Fringe players, and depth pathways. Over these 18 months, we’ve had 17 debutants. The decade before that we averaged 2.3 debutants per year. We tried to look at a larger player pool and tried different tactics against different opponents to invest in the long term and try and catch up.

“We’ve short cut the pathway for some of the players that have been jumping from clubland to national teams even a bit earlier. We’ve been using the national team almost as a development platform which it normally isn’t.”

Tony Gustavsson, Australia head coach.

“We’ve tried to shortcut that based on the Gap Report.”

Above: Giving a wide variety of players international game time has had mixed results for the Matildas. Photo supplied to Impetus by: Football Australia.

That long-term planning has meant some painful results for fans and observers. Although Gustavsson is adamant that those inside the camp are clear about the objectives and the plan so far.

“There’s a lot of faith in the process in the (inner) circle. Meaning staff and players know exactly what we’ve done over the 18 months, why we’ve done it why we’ve had so many debutants, why we’ve played the toughest schedule in the history of this program.

“They know where we are and where we’re heading. They also know that we now draw a line in the sand now and narrow it down. That doesn’t mean everything is going to be perfect in the Canada game, but the focus starts there.”

Gustavsson used the example of the Olympic preparation, done with limited time but that ended with a playoff for a Bronze medal. He remains confident in the process.

“I understand what from outside, maybe there needs to be good results to gain back the faith, but in my opinion, it’s about good performances.”

Above: Tony Gustavsson is looking to repeat the highs of Australia’s performances against the USA and Brazil. Photo supplied to Impetus by: Football Australia.

Gustavsson recalls some of Australia’s most impressive friendly performances. The second game against the USA and the series against Brazil were used as an example of what he is looking to achieve.

“If you can play that way,” he says, “People can see that we’re headed in the right direction.”

Most of the recent squad were not in camp against Spain and Portugal. The manager came under some criticism for prioritising the players physical and mental load over the opportunity to play against a World Cup contender. However, that decision has been somewhat vindicated by injuries and fatigue to some major stars during the Euros.

He stressed that although it will now be much harder to break into the national team, this does not mean that the door is closed to anybody.

“It’s a huge concern”

When assembling this latest squad, the condition of players remained a consideration. Some were in the middle of North American or Scandinavian seasons, while others were returning from injuries or long breaks.

Above: Charli Grant – one of the squad members coming back to Matildas duty from Scandinavian football. Photo supplied to Impetus by: Football Australia.

“There’s a massive debate going on in women’s football when it comes to player load,” said Gustavsson. “It’s a huge concern both from club and country.

“We tried to be ahead of that discussion when we made the decision in the June window which I know caused a lot of question marks and probably some criticism as well. Based on all the expertise I have around me, we thought that was the best decision for both the short and long term, and the player well-being.”

Australian fans have been rightly excited about the return of Elise Kellond-Knight’s return to action, but Gustavsson has taken the long-term view in not selecting the midfield general.

“She could be ready to be selected. If this was a World Cup maybe we would have selected her, but it’s a year out of the World Cup now and she needs to focus and progress slowly back into international football.”

“Right now, the best thing for her, is to have consistent minutes in training and games for club to then be ready for international football.”

Above: Back at last – Chloe Logarzo’s return is a big boost for Australia. Photo: Bristol City WFC.

One name that the manager is excited to include is midfield star Chloe Logarzo. It will be almost 12 months since her last appearance for Australia. She injured her ACL in the loss to the Republic of Ireland in September of 2021.

“I love working with Chloe,” said Gustavsson. “What a player and what a character. I had the privilege to work with her in the whole Olympic tournament and then the camp after that in September when she got injured.

“The same night she got injured, I met her in the corridor of the hotel on crutches. She understood then what it was, even though she hadn’t had it confirmed in an MRI.

“She just looked me in the eyes and said ‘Tony you know what? This is going to make me a better player. I’m going to commit like I’ve never done before. I’m going to have that World Cup in the back of my head and I’m going to be back stronger than ever.’

“A player saying that the same night that they go on crutches…that says a lot about Chloe. And she brings that character into the squad. She tough, she’s mentally strong, physically strong, and she combines that with her technical skills as well.”

Above: Chloe Logarzo in action against the Republic of Ireland in the game she suffered her ACL injury. Photo: Sporting News.

Logarzo’s return to The Matildas will raise the spirits of fans as it has the manager, but Gustavsson cautions about expecting too much from her. Her inclusion is part of assimilating her back into the team with the priority being The World Cup.

“She’s still less than 12 months away from that injury,” Gustavsson said as a reminder. “She’s selected because she hasn’t been with us since we moved to 4-3-3 after that September camp and Olympics.

“I want her in to see the playbook, see the training, and meet the team again. She’s ready for training at international level, but she might not be the best prepared for too many game minutes.”

Australia host Canada in Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium on September 3, and at Allianz Stadium in Sydney on September 6.

Matildas squad for Canada series:

Mackenzie Arnold (GK), Steph Catley, Alex Chidiac, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Larissa Crummer, Caitlin Foord, Mary Fowler, Emily Gielnik, Katrina Gorry, Charlotte Grant, Alanna Kennedy, Sam Kerr, Chloe Logarzo, Aivi Luik, Clare Polkinghorne, Courtney Nevin, Teagan Micah (GK), Hayley Raso, Emily Van Egmond, Cortnee Vine, Clare Wheeler, Lydia Williams (GK), Tameka Yallop.

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