Matildas unfazed by noise at home ahead of pre-World Cup test against Netherlands - Richard Parkin

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Matildas unfazed by noise at home ahead of pre-World Cup test against Netherlands The Guardian Despite the latest in the Alen Stajcic saga, Australia's focus remains firmly on preparations for Fr

AmsterdamNews.net

Nestled away in a quiet, leafy street in the town of Mierlo, some 15km out of Eindhoven, for the Matildas the problems of Australian football are literally a world away. As Australia awoke on Friday to a stunning statement of contrition from FFA board vice-chair Heather Reid to former coach Alen Stajcic, a protracted and calamitous chapter in Australian football officially closed.

With both parties formally declining further comment, following a reported six-figure out-of-court settlement, the full story may never properly emerge as to how football’s governing body went from sacking its women’s national team head coach citing “workplace issues” around the team environment that had “deteriorated” to concluding the “inference” that Stajcic had engaged in any misconduct was “wrong”.

In plain-speak, facing a lawyered up and disgruntled former employee, allegations of a toxic environment, unreasonable player workloads and even bullying were never sufficiently proven. FFA pulled the trigger but never managed to produce a smoking gun.

A champion of the women’s game, Reid has shouldered the bulk of the blame, given her culpability in contacting and backgrounding journalists in a war of whispers against Stajcic.

So long marginalised for her passionate advocacy for women’s football, Reid made the error of continuing the outsider’s tactics from an insider’s position. And while her name heads the apology to Stajcic, it’s a blame more rightly shared by others inside FFA, Professional Footballers Australia and prominent former players.

In formally resolving this sorry chapter just ahead of Australia’s clash with the Netherlands, FFA are hoping on-field performances might once again overshadow off-field imbroglios.

In Mierlo, a seemingly nonplussed Ante Milicic shrugged off the overnight news. “Ah look, the timing’s not great, but again, we can’t control that – we just have to get on with it,” Milicic said. “I haven’t spoken to the girls about it and nor will I, that’s in the past … These things they happen, in Australian football in particular.”

No doubt the Matildas coach would have preferred to talk about Saturday’s friendly against the Netherlands instead – where a near-full stadium of around 30,000 is expected in Eindhoven to send off two tournament contenders in their last hit-out before France.

Boasting a world-class strikeforce including Barcelona’s Lieke Martens and Women’s Super League golden boot winner Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema – Milicic is hoping the Dutch will proof a stern test after weeks spent working on defensive shape and positioning.

“We came up against a pretty strong front three in the USA,” said Milicic, “[the Netherlands’] front three are quality, and that’s good for us because they play a good attacking style of football and they have a lot of variation in their build up phase.”

Speaking with his customary quiet intensity, Milicic becomes more effusive when talking about football. It’s what he wants to do. It’s what he’s trained to do. But the experienced former Socceroos assistant knows the importance of balance – passion and relentless will to win are critical informers of success, but so too is leaving room to enjoy yourself whilst doing so.

Escaping from off-field ructions and dealing with the mental pressure of World Cup-anticipation played a major part in Milicic’s decision to base the pre-tournament camp in the state-of-the-art seaside facilities of Antalya, Turkey.

“I think the rest and recovery is just as important as the training you do,” he said. “Being Australians we like the beach, the warm weather, we like our coffee – and if you put that all together it’s a really good start for that first block of our preparation. We’re hoping to be away for 30-40 days, and to see the same faces at breakfast, lunch and dinner you need that free time and that space.”

Announcing her retirement from the Matildas earlier in the week, striker Michelle Heyman revealed the depth of her challenges with managing such pressures. A player that endured a bruising fallout with Stajcic at club level, Heyman required clear-the-air chats when re-united at the Matildas, but with a full-time sports psychologist on staff in Antalya and in France, it’s an area Milicic and FFA have prioritised.

“To Ante’s credit he did a great job coming in and helping us all feel a little less stressed, a little less concerned and uncertain,” Tameka Yallop said. And it’s an issue at the forefront of Milicic’s mind ahead of the Netherlands’ friendly.

“Unless you’re focused and prepared right in your way of thinking than that impacts how you perform, how you train, and at what levels you are at, because the game’s getting more demanding, the pressures higher, the stakes bigger,” Yallop said.

Saturday’s friendly looms as a key test. Not just as a final gauge of the Matildas’ mental preparation but their continued tactical progression from the Cup of Nations and the friendly loss to the USA.

Developments from back home haven’t aided that progress, but in sleepy Mierlo Milicic and his staff have gone to great pains to ensure the governing body’s mistakes won’t adversely affect his players.

“I don’t think it really bothers us,” Ellie Carpenter said. “We’re over here and I think that’s going on in Australia. All of that is in the past and our focus is here and on tomorrow’s game.”


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