There is reason to be excited and optimistic about the A-League Women’s according to the most recent PFA report.
A combination of COVID and severe flooding meant a congested schedule for the players last season. Perth Glory and Wellington Phoenix had to relocate for the entirety of the competition and clubs were without star players due to international tournaments. The game seems to have overcome these significant hurdles, and domestic football is becoming an attractive career option. Things look to be heading in the right direction.
Key to this was the five year, broadcast aligned CBA deal at the start of last season. A-League Women’s players saw the highest amount of player payments in the history of the competition at $3.98 million. This has been supported by guaranteed player development funding and new minimum workplace and performance standards.
The goal must be full time professionalism for Australia’s women’s players. This is essential to both keep in step with the rapidly developing global football landscape and to attract players to the A-League in an Australian sporting scene with growing options for women.
While there is no exact timeframe for that. The signs are increasingly positive. The graph for player payments has continually trended upwards. The recent announcement to extend the season to a full home and away schedule will hopefully accelerate this further.
The importance of this is reflected in the player survey. 59.5% of players who responded described their financial situation as “somewhat secure” and 26.1% said that they felt “somewhat insecure.”
56.5% of players indicated that financial reasons would be the likely reason that they would leave the game early. It was almost unanimous that higher levels of income would extend careers. 95.7% of players said that it would keep them in the game longer.
This has been a constant over the past four seasons. In every year of the PFA survey since 2018, the lowest percentage of players saying more money was necessary to prolong their career has never dipped below 92%.
Although there are improvements in conditions both on and off field, career security remains an issue. Only 4% of players feel extremely confident about the direction of control over their career. The number of players feeling “very confident” is on an increase at 40%, which is up from 32% a year earlier.
Despite these concerns, the majority of the players expressed confidence in the league. Of those surveyed, 71% said that they would like to stay playing in the A-League Women. Only 5% said that they would move overseas for the same amount of money and playing standards.
The competition produced 21 Matildas since January 2021, showing that European football is not necessarily the only pathway to the national team. The A-League continued to be a showcase for the nations best young talent, in the 2021/22 season, 18 to 24 year old’s accounted for 58% of playing minutes.
A large majority of players are eager to commit to the competition, and that is good news for clubs and fans.
Every advantage is crucial
The numbers in the PFA Report show that squad stability is a strong indicator of a good ladder position. Adelaide United achieved their best season in their history with only 13 players in the first season at the club. The two sides that played off for the Championship had the lowest number of new faces. Melbourne Victory had 10, and Sydney FC had only eight, the lowest in the league.
The data is somewhat skewed this season due to the unique circumstances. Newcastle Jets also had only 13 players in their first year at the club, but COVID hampered their ambitions after a promising start to their campaign.
Canberra United also had a very low 13 new players to the club. However they were missing some crucial players from the previous season. They eventually found their groove, but sometimes it is a matter of quality over raw data. Players like Nikki Flannery, Paige Satchell and Jessika Nash are not easily replaced in a single off season.
Every advantage is crucial in the A-League Women. The majority of matches (33%) were decided by one goal. Even in a league that is a production line of exciting new talent, a strong core group of players looks to be the secret of success.
Melbourne Victory’s championship run was even more remarkable in the context of a disrupted season. Jeff Hopkins’s side played seven games in February with an average of 3.7 days between matches.
Other fixturing issues explored by the report concern stand-alone matches, kickoff times and mid-week matches.
The results of the survey show that it is a work in progress. Only a minority of players described themselves as “not at all satisfied” with the fixturing arrangements.
On the issue of double headers, the game remains divided on opinion. 37% of players said that they were “very satisfied” with the amount of double headers and 35% responded that they were “slightly satisfied.”
Aside from game day, conditions continue to improve for players. The CBA guaranteed the same minimum standards of staffing for men’s and women’s teams.
Accommodation for away trips is four-star accommodation wherever possible and no match day flights unless directed by a doctor, club or APL due to COVID regulations.
Airport parking or other arrangements are available to players to minimise the cost of travelling for football.
The respondents to the survey indicated that professionalism at their clubs is good, but with room for improvement. Only 27% described the level as “highly professional,” but almost half said that it was “mostly professional.”
While things can always be better, 89% of players said that they would recommend their club to other players, underlining the general sense of optimism in the game.
In comparison with other leagues around the world, The A-League Women’s players had varying opinions. It was described as equal in standard to the NCAA college system in the US, and having more depth than the French leagues.
The Swedish Damalsvenskan is described as a much better league technically by multiple players, but Australia’s league is considered around the same standard as Italy, yet below Germany and England.
Multiple players surveyed said that there was an emphasis on transition play in Australia while other leagues focus more on keeping the ball and having lots of possession for the majority of the game.
Possession based football appears to be the future of the women’s game. Player feedback suggested that they acknowledged that it would produce more effective attacking and defensive outcomes.
The general game style across the league may be different to other nations, but The A-League Women remains a good scouting location for overseas clubs.
At the end of the 2020/21 season, 21 players were recruited by overseas clubs. High profile moves by Alex Chidiac, Chelsie Dawber, Kyra Cooney-Cross and Courtney Nevin, Remy Siemsen and Melina Ayres followed at the end of the 2021/22 campaign.
Progress has been made, the objective remains
Overall, the PFA report shows that there is reason to be excited about the future of the game. This is important as Australian football approaches the massive opportunity of hosting a World Cup.
“The next 12 months will be transformational for women’s football with the largest women’s sporting event in the world arriving in Australia and New Zealand,” said PFA Co-Chief Executive Kate Gill.
“With more teams, more match minutes and more opportunities than ever before in the A-League Women over the next two seasons, this Report will be a useful and important benchmark as the competition develops and embraces this fantastic opportunity for growth
“While evidence in the Report demonstrates progress has been made, our objective to make football the career of choice for female athletes remains.
“This can only be achieved by providing the most attractive employment and conditions possible to players and continuing to prioritise players’ health and wellbeing and embracing our role in driving gender equality through and beyond the game.”
There has been a record investment in player payment, along with increasing player satisfaction with their clubs.
Critically, the A-League Women continues to not only provide opportunities for rising stars to make their mark at home, but it also presents a chance for national team selection.
There is still much work to be done to provide players with the financial security they need to reach their potential, but there is reason to be optimistic.
The latest PFA report shows that the work is constantly being done to provide a career in women’s football and a pathway to success.