At the start of the press conference for the Olympic qualifiers in Perth, all four coaches were asked to give an opening statement. Taiwan coach Chan Hiu Ming went first. “You can call me Chan,” he said, charming the media in attendance with an explanation of why Chinese surnames come first.
Next came Iran coach Maryam Azmoon, who spoke about the power of women’s football and thanked Australia for joint hosting the World Cup. Then it was Mark Torcaso, the Australian who took over from Alen Stajcic as Philippines manager. He acknowledged the enormity of the World Cup for his team and said they were ready to face some very good opponents.
Tony Gustavsson was last, but obviously not least. Within 15 seconds he was dissecting the Matildas’ pressing game.
“Thanks for that,” he started. “I want to welcome all the coaches and the teams as well to Australia. So happy to have you here, because this is the first time I’m really in front [of the] media after the World Cup.
“I just want to do a little short summary. I spent nine months analysing the World Cup. You can imagine a coach wanting to be on the field working with players, talking to coaches and analysing. I’m sick of that now. But … ”
And then it began in earnest.
“ … some of the takeaways that we took away from the World Cup – football specific – is that in terms of our pressing game, we were one of the most efficient teams in the World Cup in terms of pressing efficiency, and that was one of the key reasons why we went as far as we did.
“But in terms of the regain minimum, when we lose the ball and win it back, we were not as good as the other top teams, so we need to improve in that direct pressing game. The stats show that very clearly so … ”
This continued for three minutes. Gustavsson covered the “tactics side of the game” as it related to the Matildas, who he said were one of the best at the World Cup at breaking the last line of defence, but not when it came to getting in behind the forwards and midfield (“we were not good at all”).
There were exactly “two positives and two improvement areas” identified. This tournament would be challenging because of the compact defences he expects Australia’s attack to face, referencing their struggles in breaking down Ireland and Nigeria.
That was the tactics side. On the roster side, he was excited about new players in camp, including Amy Sayer – who only marginally missed out on his World Cup final 23 – and train-on Charlize Rule. He praised assistant coach Mel Andreatta for her role in easing them in. He pointed out that, because of time passed since the World Cup and jet lag, we could expect “some rusty performances” in Perth and a lot of squad rotation.
By the time Gustavsson was done, there was nothing left to say. Except, perhaps, what everybody really wanted to know: will he still be around to implement his two improvement areas come the Olympics?
“Well, it’s a fair question, right?” he responded, without a hint of defensiveness, when asked about the still-vacant US national team job and continued speculation he may be in the frame for it.
“Same question as we had the last day of the World Cup; now it’s the first time I front the media since, so it’s a good follow-up. No, you’re professional – I appreciate that.”
On August 19, the first and last time Gustavsson was asked whether he would see out his contract which expires at the end of Paris 2024, his answer was cleverly worded. He said he loved working with the Matildas and viewed the tournament not as “an end of a journey” but “a beginning of a journey”, but demanded real investment.
Two months later, with the US still yet to appoint a replacement for Vlatko Andonovski and Jill Ellis’ endorsement still ringing in everyone’s ears, he similarly did not directly guarantee he would not take an offer should one materialise.
“What I’ve said then, and say now, is this is my full focus,” he said on Wednesday. “I love working with this team. I have one year left on my contract, and all coaches know here that we’re never better than our last game. If we underperform in this tournament, all of a sudden I’m probably a very bad coach and not many people are going to talk about it.
“And when we had a great World Cup, I’m just proud to be talked about for a job like that. It’s one of the biggest jobs in the world in terms of the finance and the interest and all that. But this, for me, is also the biggest job in the world – working with this team.
“Look at what we’ve done, and I’ve said that what we did in the World Cup was not the end of something, it was the start of something. But I was also clear then, I want to be clear now: I want to see investment for me to be motivated to stay as well. We can’t be complacent and think we’re done now. This is the start and the platform, and now I want to see investment.”
And then everyone asked about Sam Kerr.
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