Newly-appointed Westfield Matildas coach Alen Stajcic has detailed some of his plans and objectives for the national team as they embark on a new era ahead of next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada.
Stajcic, who boasts a lengthy resume across various areas of women’s football, spoke about his short and long terms plans, ambitions for Canada 2015, building an attacking team with an “Australian mentality”, and much more.
Congratulations on the appointment. What sort of honour is this for you?
It is a massive honour. Obviously I’m extremely proud. Like anyone involved in elite sport, you want to represent your country and I’m extremely proud to be given such a massive responsibility to look after this next generation of elite players.
Did you ever imagine when you started your coaching journey that you would end up in such an esteemed role?
You probably don’t think like that when you start out, but I have always been very ambitious. But when you work at somewhere like the NSW Institute of Sport you quickly have to come on board to the philosophy of world’s best, and that was very much a philosophy among my early years, and something I’m looking to carry on.
What do you think of the current generation of young Australian players?
We have a great crop of young players. In the Asian Cup final our average age was around the 20-mark. That has benefits but also challenges going forward such as consistency, and also the maturity to play consistently well at international level. It is about making potential become reality on a consistent basis.
With the disruption caused by the change of coach are there any remaining issues within the squad?
No, we already addressed that at the Asian Cup. We drew a line in the sand, and history is history. We learnt from the past that we can only move forward, and re-set our goals and objectives. We did that in May and we will do that again in January, and make sure everyone is on the same path heading towards the same goal.
Is there a certain level you are looking to achieve next year in Canada?
Obviously we are at a slight disadvantage in terms of preparation, with other countries currently playing, with many teams in residency. But our goals are lofty and we want to be in contention for medals. It is an easy thing to say, but a hard thing to do. We will start in January in terms of actually getting together, so in that sense we have a five-month window to get up that tree. There is a lot of ability in the team, but challenges also.
What sort of challenges in particular?
As I indicated, consistency is key. In a World Cup, one bad game and you could be out. Being a young group, we need to develop maturity as well as tactical and technical discipline. We need to have that if we are to challenge the likes of US, Germany and Japan.
How will you manage your current role at Sydney FC?
It is a challenging situation. It is not ideal but that is the reality. The priority is obviously the national team and to make sure everything is in place in January so we hit the ground running. Watching the players is obviously also a priority. At the same time we can’t leave Sydney FC players in the lurch. From a team (perspective), but also given there are a fair number of potential national team players in there, so they need to be catered for as well. So there is a balancing act and will be a transition period. I will be doing everything I can to get the best outcome possible for potential national team players across the league.
Do you foresee any perceived issues given your extensive Sydney FC background or knowledge?
Well I think the evidence was at the Asian Cup. At the end of the day the best players played, whoever was in form at the time and it didn’t matter whether they were playing for Sydney FC, Perth Glory or Adelaide United. The players that were selected were the players in form at training and matches prior and during the tournament. I didn’t count who as at what club in the Asian final, but I do know there were many Sydney FC players not there. At the end of the day it is irrelevant, where they play or where they are born. We are representing Australia and that is all that matters.
As the longest serving Westfield W-League coach how helpful will your background knowledge be?
Of course it has to be. All my knowledge over gathered over 15 years from Schoolgirls (teams), NSW Institute of Sport or Young Matildas. I have enjoyed a good depth of experience and been involved in the development of many players, and seen them grow up. I’m well versed in all aspects of the pathway from top to bottom, so that will certainly help. And hopefully also help set up a structure that is enduring long after I’m no longer the coach.
Sydney FC teams down the years have been based around fast-ball movement and attacking football. Can you explain your football philosophy in broad terms?
We want to go out and be positive, back ourselves and win games. We want to make the ability of the players in the group be as strong as possible as a collective. We would rather loose and be positive, than have a negative mindset going into a game. At the core of our philosophy will be to be dynamic and explosive. Using combination play and creativity has been at the forefront of teams I have coached. Against Japan (in the Asian final) we were very positive, and we tried to put a lot pressure up high. Japan couldn’t get out of their half for a long time, which I can’t recall seeing happen to Japan. There are a lot of elements at play, but that includes backing the Australian mentality to come out on top and I want to enforce that mentality.
We seem to have a fair few players around Australia that fit that mould....
Yes, and they will have to suit that mould. That is the kind of player I will be looking for, one who is positive. Katrina Gorry, just to pick one name, is someone who is positive and wants to change a game. My job it so pick players who will be positive, and to win games, and there is enough talent around to do that.