Friday 26 January 2024, 10:45

Coaches reflect on a history-making month of football

  • FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ technicians share their memories and consider its legacy

  • Co-host coaches believe the event left an indelible mark on young girls and women

  • Two-time winner Jill Ellis: “Every time you turned on the television, there was just this real fervour around the game.”

“After this [FIFA Women’s] World Cup women's football is going to explode in every single one of your countries. There will be millions and millions of girls and women around this world who will sign up to play football for the first time ever. “Take notice of what you feel in the stadium tomorrow and think about this power and this cultural movement and what it can do in your own country. It’s not just football; it’s different.” Those were the words of a visibly emotional FIFA Chief Women’s Football Officer, Dame Sarai Bareman when she addressed the audience of the FIFA Women’s Football Convention in Sydney/Gadigal on the eve of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™ Final.

The adage of ‘time flies’ felt particularly pertinent this week as Bareman, alongside colleagues from the FIFA Women’s Division and FIFA Global Technical Development Division met with coaches and technical experts – who just six months ago were pitting their wits against each other on the touchline - to reflect on the key technical trends of the tournament. While some at the helm of their national teams during the tournament have since moved on to pastures new, many of the faces in the auditorium were the same ones who over the course of a month suddenly became new role models, or the totem on which all hopes were pinned, as fans dreamed of their country reaching the final. For Tony Gustavsson and Jitka Klimková, the tournament build-up had required balancing warm-up games to fine-tune the Matildas and Football Ferns, with becoming pulled ever-closer into the increasing hype of the first FIFA Women’s World Cup to be played in two host countries.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino was steadfast in his belief before a ball was even kicked that 2023 would be ‘the best FIFA Women’s World Cup ever.’ At its conclusion, the list of superlatives and historic ‘firsts’ delivered by the event could likely stretch across the Tasman Sea. With time to reflect, how was it to be a coach in the middle of the ‘maelstrom’?

Tony Gustavsson - Australia Women's Head Coach

“I think, first and foremost, it’s very important to credit those who have walked the path before you. There have been generations of players that walked this pathway before I came on board. So, I’m a small, small part of something much bigger than me. The former Matildas, the current Matildas, the future Matildas – those are the ones that really set the standards and have brought the team to where it is today,” Gustavsson explained with a smile at the Home of FIFA. “There are so many emotions to take in, but “inspiration” is the one word that comes to mind. How many people were inspired and the unity between people invested in the game and the players on the pitch.”

Australia women's national team head coach Tony Gustavsson poses for a portrait during the Post FIFA Women's World Cup Coaches Forum at Home of FIFA

Jitka Klimková - New Zealand Women's Head Coach

Jitka Klimková cut her football teeth in what is now known as Czechia, before taking up the coaching reins of the Football Ferns in 2021. With the ‘land of the long white cloud’ synonymous with other sports, pre-tournament ticketing sales in some Kiwi host cities had been on the ‘sluggish’ side. Yet events at Eden Park on 20 July 2023 changed things…perhaps for ever. “Of course, it was a risk to bring the football to New Zealand because the culture is different. People love rugby, people love cricket, netball – those specific sports. Football was not so popular in New Zealand, specifically,” she said. “Even that first game. It might be sold out…it might not be sold out. Closer to the kick-off date, the stadium sold out and we knew that was a good sign – but what’s the next step for us? How much are we going to use this in the future?”

New Zealand women's national football team head coach Jitka Klimkova poses for a portrait during the Post FIFA Women's World Cup Coaches Forum

For the first-time ever (another first), FIFA committed to tracking the legacy of the tournament via a dedicated working group. The primary aim was to monitor the impact of the event over the next five years, not only in the two co-host countries, but further afield across Asia and Oceania. According to Klimková, the afterglow of the tournament is still very much alight. “I am so proud to see how much the kids are now starting to play football,” she continued. “Going through the parks and seeing little girls and boys playing not just rugby, but kicking the ball, with shoes, without shoes, seeing them on the beach doing the same thing. “It has changed the passion of football in New Zealand, and I am very proud and thankful that FIFA took a risk and brought the football World Cup to New Zealand. It really has changed the passion for the sport in the country,” she concluded.

Jill Ellis - FIFA Technical Study Group

Jill Ellis poses for a portrait during the Post FIFA Women's World Cup Coaches Forum

For Jill Ellis, 2023 marked a new direction after guiding the US to FIFA Women’s World Cup gold in 2015 and 2019. Ellis headed up the FIFA Technical Study Group, a team of 12 tasked with providing a comprehensive breakdown of the technical, tactical and physical action, as well as the identification of potential trends across the 64 matches. The experience enabled a rare and rewarding opportunity to take in more of the event, outside her previous ‘limits’ of a team hotel, training site and pitch-side technical area. “On this occasion, I was able to experience the World Cup very differently. I was able to really see the passion, the painted faces, the things that you don’t really pay attention to, honestly, when you’re coaching. To see the breadth of the fan base, the passion, and the excitement and 75,000 people in the stand,” Ellis beamed. “I think those things have left a mark. And, also, seeing a nation get caught up in a World Cup. The Matildas were on every front page of every newspaper. They were on every time you turned on the television, there was just this real fervour around the game and around that team. So, those were things that I hadn’t really experienced before, and it was pretty cool to see.”

Angelo Marsiglia - Colombia Women's Head Coach

The passion of the fans – albeit those who had travelled from South America – was a personal highlight for Colombian coach Angelo Marsiglia too. “I think that our fanbase has always been an important pillar. They made us feel at home while in Australia, thousands of kilometres away from our country. We felt that homeland warmth. When we sang our anthem in the stadiums it also gave us goosebumps.” Colombia has unquestionably become a leading force in women's football at international level, finishing as quarter finalists at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup™ in Costa Rica, runners-up at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup™ in India and quarter finalists at the FIFA Women's World Cup™ in Australia and New Zealand.

Colombia women's national football team head coach Angelo Marsiglia during the Post FIFA Women's World Cup Coaches Forum

Between 31 August to 22 September this year, the country will also host the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup™. Could hosting this youth tournament in Marsiglia’s opinion, inspire another generation of young girls and women to play football? “For us, this means growth,” he answered swiftly. “The opportunity to hold a World Cup of this magnitude is important. Not only for sport but also for a society that has become bigger than what it is through sport. For young people, it’s the opportunity to dream, to believe. “Before, we didn’t see women’s football as a professional sport, but more as a hobby. Nowadays, many girls dream about becoming a professional football player, not only in our country but also internationally, like many of the role models such as Leicy Santos, Linda Caicedo or Mayra Ramírez. So, what we want is for them to have a dream and fulfil it through training sessions, competitions, which are receiving a lot of support in our country.”

Colombian fans enjoy the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Fan Fests in Sydney

Dreams can be sometimes fleeting, and often, sadly, won’t come true. But the sentiments shared by Colombia’s women’s national team coach are ones that Tony Gustavsson wholeheartedly concurs with. "I know how important that has been for the players as well, that they want to make sure that they leave their jersey [behind] better than it was when they came.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 12: Sam Kerr of Australia celebrates her team's victory through the penalty shoot out during the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Quarter Final match between Australia and France at Brisbane Stadium on August 12, 2023 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

We’re probably going to hear someone sitting here in 10 years from now saying: "Hey, why did you become a Matilda?” They are probably going to reply: “I was there at the stadium watching that game.”

Tony Gustavsson
Australia Women's National Team Coach

“For example, we’ve spoken about [the fact that] it’s not just about the medal around your neck, it’s about the heart beating on the backside of it. Meaning that passion and love of the game, to grow the game. And I have to, once again, thank the whole country for the way that they united and got behind the team during the World Cup. You can feel that now as well, that the momentum is there, the increase in investment is there. “There are so many people working so hard every day, and sometimes it might not be seen or heard, but there is so much being done in the background – not just in the short-term but for the long-term investment and growth of the game in the country.”

FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™