Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson facing coronavirus restrictions and Tokyo Olympics uncertainty as he steps into job - Australian Latest news

Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson facing coronavirus restrictions and Tokyo Olympics uncertainty as he steps into job

New Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson is preparing to face a series of unique challenges as he takes charge of Australia’s women’s national team in the midst of a global pandemic and with the future of the Tokyo Olympics still uncertain.

Gustavsson formally began his role earlier this month and has spoken with his players and staff online, but is yet to find out when his squad will be able to gather for the first time.

At the moment, the Swede is still preparing as if the Olympics Games will go ahead in July and August this year. If they do, it will be the Matildas’ first major tournament under their new coach.

Time is of the essence then for Gustavsson, who says he plans to make the most of every single minute he gets with his players.

“Obviously as a new coach and a coach in general, I would love to meet the team and meet the players. As a national team coach you always think you don’t have enough time, you want to have more days and more games,” Gustavsson said.

“It’s always challenging even in normal circumstances. Then with a pandemic going on, it’s difficult to get together and you get less time.

“I’ve tried to look at it this way, and this is how I’m wired as a person — I’m always trying to look at the possibilities.

“So instead of looking at it like we lose time, we need to make use of time. Meaning, we need to think differently now, maybe think outside of the box a little bit. So if we can’t get together physically, is there anything else we can do to gel and connect?

“This is a team that the majority of players have played together for a long time, so there’s already a camaraderie and togetherness and understanding with each other.”

A footballer with her back to camera celebrates a goal with teammates in Olympic football qualifier.
The Matildas have not played a game since March 2020.(AAP: Darren Pateman)

Gustavsson has signed a four-year contract, which will take him beyond the 2023 Women’s World Cup, to be hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

This then is the start of the Matildas’ journey to that tournament and Gustavsson says he is no doubt that he wants to start that journey in style.

“And it’s easy to just look at the rankings and see who we want to play. We want as tough of a schedule as possible, even if it means it is challenging and there are difficulties for me coming in as a new coach.”

An assistant coach leans over the sideline to shout instructions to womens' football players.
Tony Gustavsson during his time on the coaching staff of the USWNT.(Reuters: Michael Chow)

Gustavsson is still in Sweden but, depending on the pandemic, he is hoping to live in Australia “from mid-next year”.

He says he has been following the new W-League season from afar — though not to the extent he would like.

“It might sound like I haven’t watched anything — I’ve watched a lot — but as a coach you want to watch everything. I’m always going to feel like I haven’t watched enough,” he said.

“We have to show respect for what the league has done for the Matildas. In that sense, the W-League is very, very, very important for us.

“It’s a fantastic platform for young players to get exposed to games.”

A projected image in the sydney opera house of blue and green confetti falling behind Sam Kerr mid-backflip
The 2023 Women’s World Cup will be hosted by Australia and New Zealand.(Twitter: The Matildas)

For Gustavsson, who has previously been an assistant coach for the all-conquering US Women’s National Team, distance could prove to be a blessing because he can assess his squad without any preconceived ideas or judgements.

But already, Gustavsson says, he can see similarities between his Matildas players and the two-time World-Cup-winning Americans.

“I’ve had very little time now to get up to speed, so what I’ve told the players is that I want everyone to feel like it’s a blank paper, and the coach will look with fresh eyes and will give everyone a chance to showcase themselves.

“If I say, ‘We are short here,’ or, ‘We need to look here,’ I might be blinded to what I am watching. So I want to really open up and see from my end what I think about the roster.

“When I look at the Matildas and when I spoke to the players, I sensed some similarities between the teams [Matildas and USWNT] in terms of that passion and drive and attitude and fearlessness to step on the field.

“With that attitude that we can beat anyone.

“What stands out for me is the passion they have for their country and how proud they are to play for the Matildas.”

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