meEarlier this month, when the Australian Football Federation denied Wellington Phoenix’s request to relax the W-League’s international player rules in order to align a heavyweight Kiwi women’s team, the governing body cited Document of the XI Principles and reiterated her desire to “improve and promote play and development opportunities for women and girls who play soccer in Australia”.
“These are not mere words on paper and the FFA will take the necessary steps to continue promoting these principles.” said in a statement.
Wellington’s visa application denial, which would have increased the number of W-League teams to 10 and secured more playing time across the board, received criticism from the wider football community, especially those who have enjoyed of the recent resurgence of the Phoenix. Side of the A-League.
However, new research to be released by the FFA shows that it was justified to deny the New Zealand-based club’s request, which would have given Wellington the use of the W-League as a development avenue for its own players. of the national team at the expense of Australians.
The research, compiled into a report titled Women’s Performance Gap Report, provides hard data on Australia’s women’s football ecosystem and addresses the intersecting factors that have resulted in a worrying lack of depth for female players internationally.
Divided into three sections: Senior International Soccer, Youth International and Senior National Soccer, the report compares various aspects of Australia’s national and national configuration with the configuration of 11 other major soccer nations, including Brazil, England, France, Italy. and Japan. , Holland, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United States.
In an echo of the men’s performance gap report Released in early November, the women’s version takes a holistic look at Australia’s footballing careers and highlights its structural shortcomings. At the senior level, he found that Australia has relied too much on a “core” group of Matildas over the last four-year playing cycle, topping the charts in every nation studied, while using the fewest players in that period. . .
Furthermore, Australia has the fewest “fringe” players available for national team selection at 27, compared to the study average of 38. Only 18 of those players will be at their “peak performance age” (defined as between 22 and 31 years). 2023: the fewest among all the nations studied.
Australia has also delivered the fewest international debuts (8) during the four-year cycle, only two of which (Karly Røestbakken and Jenna McCormick) have accumulated more than 200 minutes for the senior Matildas. “This indicates that Australia lacks depth in the team,” says the report, “with limited options.”
By contrast, Australia’s closest neighbor in the study, Japan, has used the fewest “core” players (6), possibly explaining its disappointing senior international performance in recent years. However, Japan has been planning for the future, with 50 “fringe” players racking up minutes for the national team during the same period. Forty of these players will be at their “peak performance age” at the next Women’s World Cup.
In terms of international exposure, Australia played the second fewest international games (44) and against the least diverse (or ‘unique’) opponents (20) – especially UEFA nations – of the 11 studied.
At the youth level, the report found that Australia oversees the fewest international youth programs (3) and only offers two junior age groups, compared to nations like Japan and the US, operating national teams from under 15 even minors. -23s.
This partly explains why Australia is last in the rankings for the U-17 and U-20 Women’s World Cups, as it has not qualified for a youth tournament since 2006, when it was still part of the United Nations Football Confederation. Oceania.
Australia’s international activity at the youth level is also strikingly below international standard. Australia played the fewest international matches (57) during the study period, including just eight friendlies in four years, compared to the study average of 94 or “almost double the total number of games, of any type, that Australia has played in the same period time. ” Not a single party arrived against the opposition of Uefa or Conmebol.
Finally, the study analyzed the growing influence of club soccer on player development. The findings are particularly bleak on this front, especially when the minutes offered in the W-League are compared to other major women’s leagues.
“A player from a top-level club in Spain has the opportunity to play three times more top-level matches than a player from the W-League,” the report says. “Australia’s national league structure, with a maximum of 14 games on offer, allows just 113,444 game minutes, compared to the case study league average of 291,660 minutes.
“The lack of game minutes offered in the Australian W-League has consistently required players within or on the fringes of the national team to play abroad season after season. The maximum number of minutes played by an Australian who only played in the W-League was 4,552 (Perth Glory’s Kim Carroll).
“By contrast, the 21-year-old Spanish Cinta del Mar Rodríguez played 8,569 minutes for Sporting de Huelva in four seasons. An Australian in the W-League would need to play every minute of eight full regular seasons to exceed this figure. This inability to consistently play minutes of high-level matches has created an alarming gap between the players of the Australian national team and the rest. This gap is now insurmountable without a strategic reform ”.
It is worrying that this gap seems to grow with almost all senior Matildas now playing in one of the European leagues included in the study. These league seasons are longer and played in conjunction with many other cup competitions, which means there are more club minutes available, while the W-League continues to lag behind with its 12 regular season rounds plus a final series of two. weeks.
In fact, the number of minutes of W-League matches played by young internationals has dropped from 60% to 22% in the last decade, with only 14 playing two full seasons (or 2,160 minutes) during the study period. In contrast, 66 Dutch youths reached this benchmark in match minutes.
These intertwined factors are creating a dangerous feedback loop that threatens to further exacerbate the problem. “There is a growing dependence on a small core of players; This leads to fewer opportunities for new fringe players to debut and establish themselves; fringe players then struggle to close the gap in experience and quality to central players; which means that small-core players are increasingly being trusted to play as often and as often as possible. “
These data, supplemented with a similar study conducted by the players’ union, Professional Footballers Australia, provides some of the most compelling evidence yet that Aussie football needs to be redesigned to address the gaps created by decades of underinvestment and disregard for its development responsibilities. In this sense, then, the FFA denying Wellington’s relaxed visa application makes sense. The question now is how the game in general should respond, from the FFA to the clubs and member associations.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.