“I’m sick of us saying, ‘When are we going to qualify for the World Cup’? When are we going to win the World Cup? Call me a dreamer.”
Those were the immortal words of Johnny Warren after he was bestowed FIFA’s Centennial Order of Merit Award just months before he passed away.
In terms of winning a men’s World Cup, that will likely forever remain a pipe dream.
In the women’s game however, Australia’s best chance at winning the ultimate prize is looming ever closer and the Matildas are a team in disarray.
Having left it too late to blood its younger talent, a youthful side was dismantled 7-0 by Spain last month, Tony Gustavsson described it as a ‘warning’ for his experimental team. But the signs have been there for much longer than that.
Despite a memorable Quarter-Final win over Great Britain – largely down to a brilliant individual performance from Sam Kerr – Australia flattered to deceive at the Olympics.
Tepid football, with an inability to play through the middle of the park, was a feature of the Matildas’ Group Stage performances.
Those frailties were again shown at the Asian Cup, when Gustavsson selected a full-strength side to dismantle Indonesia, but there was nowhere to hide when his team were confronted with a worthy opponent in South Korea.
While the draw with Portugal may have alleviated some worries, the situation is clear – Tony Gustavsson isn’t the right man for the most important job in Australian football right now.
Why is it the most important job in Australian football?
Because Australia will quite simply never have an opportunity to win a FIFA World Cup quite like this ever again.
Firstly, this is truly a golden generation of talent.
Sam Kerr is Australia’s first player to finish in the top 3 of the Ballon d’Or, Ellie Carpenter has already won two Champions League’s at the age of 22 and young starlet Mary Fowler is now another of the plethora of talent to be playing in the world’s top leagues.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the rest of the world is finally catching on to the women’s football movement.
Women’s football in Europe is exploding in popularity like never before, the result of this will be that there is an equalisation in the quality of football’s traditional powerhouses in the women’s game and the men’s game.
Coinciding with this, Australia itself (particularly Aussie Rules through AFLW) is finally catching onto women’s sport meaning the Matildas already limited pool of talent has been cannibalised even further.
The AFLW has already committed to a 94% pay increase in an attempt to monopolise women’s sport in Australia, while the quality of A-League Women has largely stagnated as a result of the best players moving overseas.
The recently announced expansion will hopefully alleviate some of these concerns, but ultimately women’s football in Australia has failed to capitalise on its head start.
Finally, there is of course the home ground advantage.
During Australia’s victorious Asian Cup campaign in 2015 the entire country witnessed the benefits of playing a tournament on our own patch. With the opportunity to bring to take on the world in our own backyard for the first-time next year, this will amplify even further.
There are obvious parallels to be made with the recent calls to sack Graham Arnold, however there is a real difference in this case.
Not only has Gustavsson got a lot more to work with comparatively, there is a ready-made replacement who ticks every box, he would come at a price – but Joe Montemurro should be called upon to lead the Matildas to glory.
Currently managing Juventus Women, Montemurro has pedigree managing at the highest level (won the FA Women’s Super League with Arsenal in 2019 and domestic treble with Juventus last season), experience managing some of these players locally (won two consecutive titles with Melbourne City in 2016 and 2017) and of course as an Australian knows just how much it would mean to bring a World Cup to this country.
He would come at a price, only a serious offer would make him want to break his Juve bond, but if $500,000 for a one-year contract is the price it takes to give the Matilda’s a shot at lifting a World Cup, isn’t that a gamble worth taking?
Montemurro was on the shortlist to replace Ante Milicic to replace Gustavsson in 2020 and at the time admitted it would be a ‘great privelige’ to manage the Matildas.
Since then, Montemurro has only enhanced his reputation while Gustavsson’s reputation with Socceroos fans is only diminishing.
If no change is made before the Women’s World Cup and the Matildas underperform, the Australian football public will look towards Football Australia and say ‘I Told You So’.