Tony Gustavsson has urged his players to embrace the intense pressure surrounding the Matildas, describing it as a “privilege” which proves there is surging interest in the team’s fortunes.
But the energetic Swede has vowed not to derail his team from a process he says is designed to give them the best possible chance of lifting the 2023 Women’s World Cup – simply for the sake of a short-term confidence booster against Brazil on Saturday night.
Gustavsson lashed his players for a lack of hunger and desire last month when they fell to a surprise 3-2 defeat to Ireland, bringing their record under his short reign to two wins, two draws and eight losses.
Then came Lisa De Vanna’s allegations of a toxic culture within women’s football, which have rocked the sport and added another layer of difficulty and distraction to their two-match friendly series against Brazil.
Gustavsson, a former schoolteacher, fronted the press via Zoom on Friday and even reached for a nearby whiteboard to help him answer a question on how he has managed to keep his team’s focus on the field.
He drew a large circle, signifying external pressure, and a smaller one inside of it, representing the team’s internal pressure. In between the two circles, he said, was the “performance zone”, where the air is thin and the landscape challenging for players to navigate – but it’s where he said the world’s top teams do their best work.
Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson needed a whiteboard to help him answer one question from the press.
“What I’m trying to do is explain to players and staff is if you genuinely want to be the team that can lift that trophy in ’23, we need to get used to performing under pressure, and look at pressure as a privilege, because that means there’s a lot of interest in our team … that’s a good thing,” he said.
Gustavsson acknowledged the Matildas weren’t where they needed or wanted to be at this point in their development, but he said that didn’t necessarily mean they were in a bad place – despite having only two international windows before their next major tournament, the Asian Cup in January.
He compared them to a golfer who was trying out a new swing: they might struggle to execute when they overthink things, but eventually, the persistence will pay off.
As for their poor defensive record, he acknowledged it needed to be fixed quickly, but not at the expense of Australia’s commitment to aggressive, attacking football.
The Matildas are in Sydney, but training under strict quarantine conditions.
“If I was a coach 15 years ago, I think maybe the answer would have been, ‘Hey, we need to keep it tight, we can’t keep conceding goals like this, we need to keep a clean sheet and maybe get a transition moment with Sam [Kerr] and score 1-0 and win a game’. That’s not what this team is about, that’s not what these fans want to see,” Gustavsson said.
“Yes, we’ve conceded a lot of goals but if you should criticise someone for that, it’s me, because I’m putting the players through a process here where it’s all about preparation.
“Yes, we want to win every game we play, but I’m not going to change my mindset in terms of putting this team through these preparations that I think [are] very, very important to then win something [at the] Asian Cup.
“And if we don’t perform there, I’m the first one to take that hit. I’ll be OK with that.”
Gustavsson, who last week welcomed the Sport Integrity Australia investigation into De Vanna’s allegations, said the Matildas had “tons of motivation” to perform in their first match at home in almost two years.
“I hope this isn’t interpreted as me being disrespectful to the other important things that’s talked about now – meaning all the events in women’s football. But there’s so many things to be excited about here,” he said.
“First time on home soil in 600 days, playing Brazil, we have Alanna Kennedy – who’s a local [product] – playing her 100th cap. I hope [those are] the things that are going to take over so we have this fantastic 90 minutes plus of football so we can celebrate the women’s game in that sense.”
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