Sam Kerr: We want to inspire a nation

Ben Gilby was in today’s Australia media conference with captain Sam Kerr and head coach Tony Gustavsson. The Matildas’ all-time record scorer highlighted the fact that the best possible legacy from their home World Cup would be increased funding to match the sport’s status as the one with the biggest participation rate in the country (6/4/23).

Above: Sam Kerr speaking to the media today from Australia’s Surrey training base. Image: Football Australia.

Matildas captain Sam Kerr today outlined to the media what she wants to see as the legacies from the World Cup that Australia will co-host this year.

“The legacy we want to leave is that we inspired the nation. We moved the nation to believe in women’s football and The Matildas. It’s about getting the people higher up to believe in the sport.

“You see the funding that AFL and rugby get before women’s football. It’s about getting the money into football to allow girls to play and have the opportunity to get where they want to be. We have the participation, we have the love of the game, but we hope that the lasting legacy will be the funding.”

With record ticket sales and the Matildas’ opening game of the tournament against the Republic of Ireland moved to the Olympic Stadium due to demand, the Western Australian star highlighted the impact that the home support will have on the squad.

“Ireland are a bloody good team, they’ve conceded no goals in their last nine games so. If you look too far ahead – I think that was one of the biggest learning curves from the last World Cup, looking too far ahead. This time we focus on Ireland and making the crowd the twelfth man.

“Not many players get to play a home World Cup. We always talk about Cathy Freeman and the 2000 Olympics and we kinda hope that no matter what happens that this team is remembered forever and represents Australia, showing Australia can be a real footballing country, a real host of women’s football. I get goosebumps every time I think about that first game.

Above: Sam Kerr training today with The Matildas. Photo: Andy Wicks for Impetus.

“Historically the Matildas play much better at home and I think that’s down to our fans. We have an amazing support…we are a really well-supported team…there are so many girls in this team that are loved by the Aussies.”

Tony Gustavsson is the fifth head coach in Kerr’s time with the national side. She outlined the impact of having someone with the experience of World Cup success as part of the USWNT’s coaching squad at the helm.

“Tony came from a winning culture. The US is the best winning culture in the world for the last 12 years and seeing how Tony dealt with their team and individual players. I think Tony will admit himself that every camp is different, but when we get into tournament mode, it flips on its head.

“It’s been great for me to learn that there is a difference, there is a time to speed it up and slow it down, and I’ve always struggled with that in my career, I’ve always sped it up! I found that balance and learned pretty quickly with the Olympics that there is a difference between tournament mode and this sort of camp.

“You put pressure on yourself, but at the end of the day, it’s (this international window) a practice. We’re not going to be where we want to be in two months’ time right now…I don’t think since Tony’s been here we’ve ever had our full squad together, it’s just ebbed and flowed the whole time.”

This international window marks the end of a particularly hectic period in club football for Australia’s all-time leading goalscorer. A Conti Cup Final, FA Cup Quarter-Final, Champions League Quarter-Final as well as regular WSL matches. Asked how tough the last month has been, Kerr just smiled and said: “I’ve loved the last month. Anyone who knows me knows I prefer to play than train!

“It’s been enjoyable, it’s been really tough. I’ve learned a lot, but it was kind of like a World Cup setting – big game after big game, every game a Final or a knockout. We’ve played every big team under the sun. I love playing for the national team, so I’m excited for these two games.”

Gustavsson: As one door closes, another door opens

Above: Tony Gustavsson at today’s Matildas media conference today with captain Sam Kerr. Image: Football Australia.

Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson admits that his plans for this international window have had to be adjusted as his squad were hit by another batch of injuries.

Caitlin Foord and Alanna Kennedy withdrew from the squad on Monday adding to the likes of Emily Gielnik and Kyah Simon. Gustavsson outlined how it changed his thinking for the forthcoming games against Scotland and England.

“It was a challenge coming into this camp, we knew it was the last chance for the World Cup assembly to look at some consistency and cohesiveness, Ellie (Carpenter) coming into the back line, but unfortunately we have…six very experienced players out – over 500 caps are missing coming into the camp.

“So we had to change our approach from saying this is about consistency and cohesiveness to now changing that mindset to ‘what last answers can we get about World Cup selection?’ One door closes and another door opens.

“There’s been some load management this camp as well in terms of players that we need to handle with respect as it’s all about the bigger picture, which is the World Cup.”

This international window marks the second anniversary of the Matildas boss’ first camp with the squad. In the midst of the COVID pandemic, Australia’s squad availability was greatly reduced as the side suffered a 5-2 loss to Germany, and a 5-0 loss to the Netherlands.

Gustavsson reflected on what he has learned during the last 24 months. “It was a tough spot, in COVID, not having players available. One (thing I have learned) is trust the process – getting the team to believe. We’ve looked at 60 players and 20 debutants.

“I also learned I should have educated more people outside of the circle about the process to get the understanding of why we did what we did. The more you work with players the more you learn about them and how to make the best out of them as players, it’s building a playing style.”

Asked about how he has managed the Matildas’ stars such as Sam Kerr to ensure her load is manageable and she peaks at the best times, Gustavsson said: “If you look at backing up performance after performance in club land, it says a lot about her professionalism and character as a player.

“Sometimes I have to be the one that puts on the handbrake. Sometimes these winners want to win every game and play fully every game, but sometimes they need to listen to and manage load and game time. It’s about looking at the bigger picture.”

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