Top coaches agree on Matildas' new boss

Coaching greats agree ability can overcome Ante Milicic's inexperience with women's teams.
Coaching greats agree ability can overcome Ante Milicic's inexperience with women's teams.

The chief criticism of Ante Milicic's appointment as coach of the Matildas has been his lack of experience in women's football.

On this point, some of Australia's best coaches are in unison.

Yes, there are differences but, no, it shouldn't matter if the coach is good enough.

"At the end of the day it's about your experience and ability to coach athletes that counts," Lisa Alexander, coach of the Australian netball team, told AAP.

Alexander has taken the Diamonds to world championships glory and the world No.1 ranking.

She was echoed by Ric Charlesworth, Australia's elder statesman at crossing gender lines as a coach.

Charlesworth led both the Hockeyroos and Kookaburras to two World Cup titles each during a career that included back-to-back Olympic gold medals with the women.

"It's over-exaggerated that there's some kind of difference," he said.

"I treated them as hockey players ... as individuals, fairly, whether they're male or female. They both worked just as hard. Both were just as ambitious.

"In fact, women were better team players than the men. They were not as egocentric.

"In some ways it was a better environment in which to work because they were more willing to work for the team."

Tim Walsh led Australia's rugby sevens women to inaugural Olympic gold in 2016 and is now in charge of the equivalent men's team.

"One cliche I've heard before is women need to feel good to play well and the men needed to win to feel good. That certainly rang true in the team that won the gold medal," Walsh said.

"With the girls, the detail and the technicality behind your coaching is really tested.

"Minds are more forensic. I found that a real asset to (my growth as a coach) as you have to really justify your stuff."

Alexander disagreed with the 'feel good to win' remark but the pair found common ground on what Milicic's biggest test will be; mending a broken team.

The 44-year-old, handed the job on an interim basis through to the World Cup in June, has acceded to the job in trying circumstances.

Previous boss Alen Stajcic was fired by FFA after the governing body formed the view that a toxic environment had grown under his leadership.

Stajcic fiercely denies this.

Whether that culture existed previously or not, the bungled manner of his departure has ensured Milicic and the Matildas start at a low ebb.

Alexander and Charlesworth agreed the subtle coaching differences between sexes would pale into insignificance compared to the clean-up job on Milicic's hands.

Alexander said from what she'd heard of Milicic, and the carrot in front of the Matildas, he was well-placed to succeed.

"His challenges are about repairing the damages in the team. He'll probably do that really quickly because of the big picture, the World Cup dangling in front of the athletes," she said.

"He'll have to be extremely fair in his selection and show he's being scrupulously thorough.

"He's worked at his craft of coaching which I admire. I can see that he's done that and that's wonderful.

"The media get a bit caught up with how the differences (between the sexes), instead of looking at it from another viewpoint which is how similar men and women are.

"We should get the conversation and the narrative onto the needs of the individual."

Charlesworth said Milicic personally would benefit from low expectations caused by the divide - if he put in the work to fix it.

"Part of Ante's problem is going to be unearthing what was behind all that ... but he didn't cause it. He's from outside. That can help," he said.

"It's a good rap really. If you don't succeed, you haven't had enough time and if you do, you're a hero.

"But it's hard job because there's a lot ahead of him."

While the debate on coaching women is one factor; women in coaching is quite another.

An Australian woman has never coached the Matildas, and while there are no examples of women coaching top-tier Australian men's sporting teams, the inverse, where males take charge of female outfits, is commonplace.

As an example, the recently concluded W-League boasted just two female coaches in nine roles.

Women's sporting advocate Danielle Warby said she wished Milicic well, but ideally the position would go to a woman or man with a track record of excellence coaching women.

"I want to aim high for the Matildas. They are just outside the world's top five so I'd like to see them being coached by someone that has already taken a team there," she said.

"It's good that he's familiar to the set up and understands Australia but it's concerning he's never coached women before.

"The Matildas deserve someone that understands the challenges that go with performing on the world stage while going from semi-professionalism to professionalism."

Australian Associated Press