This month marks somewhat of a watershed for women’s football Down Under, with the baton being passed from the most experienced current coach in the international arena to one untested at the top level. Tom Sermanni will commence his new role with FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking leaders USA and will hand over Australia’s reins to former Netherlands international Hesterine de Reus.
In the eight years that Sermanni was at the helm, women’s football in Australia, led by the Matildas, made a quantum leap in every respect. A significant boom in participation coincided with the national team growing from being a bit player on the world stage to holding down a regular spot in the top ten of the global ladder.
The portents were there from Sermanni’s very first match in charge. Australia defeated Germany almost eight years ago to the day, in what was the nation’s first win against reigning world champions.
There followed consecutive appearances in the quarter-finals of the FIFA Women’s World Cup™, and an Asian crown. The Matildas are still the only male or female Australian team to conquer Asia since the nation joined the confederation in 2005. It is a significant feat considering Asia’s strength in women’s football on a global scale.
A maiden appearance in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in 2006, and subsequent FIFA Women’s World Cup in China PR a year later, were breakthrough moments according to Sermanni. “Those two tournaments reinforced to the players that we had players that could attack, try and win games, and play football,” Sermanni told FIFA.com. “Some of the cohesion and style of football gave our players the belief that they could match some of the best in the world.”
And what changes has Sermanni seen in the Australian team since he took charge? “There are probably two major differences,” said the affable Scotland-born Australian, a veteran of the FIFA Women's World Cup in 1995. “The attitude of the players is one of having a feeling of belief that they can go out and potentially win against anyone. Previously the team perhaps went out hoping to grind out a result, and hope not to get beaten.
"The other thing is that technically the players Australia are producing are very gifted. I think that, other than the Asian nations, the Australian players are as naturally gifted as anyone in the world. I think that is a result of the coaching system which has included trying to identify players that can all the way to international level.”
Since qualification for China 2007, women’s football has enjoyed a far greater share of the spotlight with the establishment of the W-League in 2008, which benefits from free-to-air TV coverage. Participation has undergone exponential growth, while several national team players enjoying rapidly growing profiles.
“The most significant change has been the number of girls playing, which has helped bring the game into the mainstream,” said Sermanni. “If you look back to the '90s, the game was almost a minority sport in Australia. So at the elite level this change has resulted in far better quality of players coming through, having played since the age of six and seven. Because of this the profile improves, and young players can see that the game offers a lot as a professional sport."
New horizons appear
The recently appointed De Reus comes with an impressive CV in terms of development, having worked extensively in youth and technical development, notably with the Netherlands’ national youth team programs. Most recently, De Reus, capped 43 times by Oranje Leeuwinnen, had a brief stint at PSV FC Eindhoven, following a two-year spell as Technical Director and head coach with Jordan.
De Reus will have the opportunity to groom a youthful Australia side, who were one of the youngest at the last FIFA Women's World Cup with a dozen teenagers in their ranks.
“I had the opportunity to watch some of the Matildas' matches at Germany 2011 and I very much enjoyed their style of football,” said De Reus. “We have some very ambitious plans for the team over the coming years. With support, I am confident that we can perform on the international stage to the level that we aspire too.”