Matildas coach was pressed on links with move back to Europe as his team prepares for two-match series with Canada.
Much to the frustration of the man himself, the future of Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson continues to hover over his team amid the chilly air of a Vancouver winter.
On the eve of a two-match series against Canada where Gustavsson says he wants to experiment with his stocks and style to “win a player” as much as win a game, the question of the coach’s future is the narrative in the background colouring everything.
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Speaking to media from Vancouver early on Friday, in theory to preview the games with Canada that will mark the retirement of Christine Sinclair, Gustavsson was quizzed about his future in the wake of fresh reports linking him to the role of head coach of the Swedish men’s team.
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With a politician’s finesse, Gustavsson talked warmly of the validity of the question, of the need for headlines around the team, and the value of coverage. What he didn’t do was commit to being at the helm of the Matildas if they get to the Olympics – insisting his only focus is on February’s Olympic play-off with Uzbekistan.
“First of all, I need to credit you guys, I think you do a phenomenal job creating headlines around this team,” he said ahead of Saturday’s showdown. “That’s part of the business, especially when you have players or coaches whose contract runs out within a 12-month period.
“There’s always going to be speculation (about) what’s next? Whether there is a dialogue with the Australian FA about an extension or whether he is going to move on to this one or this job.
“I need to credit all of you for all the job that you do and especially with the interest in this team, it’s just going to keep the interest in this team growing, which means there’s always going to be speculation whether it’s about me or a player.
“What I want to be clear on here though, what’s important to me is that my sole focus is on the Matildas and can they qualify for the Olympics – and we have unfinished business with this team.
“I know there’s always going to be people that interpret that comment differently and speculate about this and this.
“But the one thing that I want to be very, very clear on is that I am extremely passionate working with this team. I love this team and what we have done is really good.”
Gustavsson might have hoped that was that – instead he was asked about the effect of the speculation on the players. He insisted there was none, but politely tried to move the conversation on.
“One of the key reasons why we perform so well in the World Cup is that as a team, they are extremely connected to each other about everything and we look in and not out,” he responded.
“So all the potential of disturbance that could be outside and the speculation, that is for the public. The players and me are focusing 100% of the Olympics.
“I have a very, very, very close relationship with the players in terms of talking about things that potentially could disturb (us) – one thing could be speculation about the coach’s future.
“We’re always open about everything and what I really love with this team is they’re professional. They just say it’s part of the business, let’s move on, let’s play for the Olympics.
“Maybe from my perspective and you know this from working with me for years now, the one thing that maybe I’m not liking is that this is about the players, it’s not about Tony, and I’m not too happy about the attention being directed towards me as much as it is.
“I want to sit here and talk about Charlie Rule being in camp, Sarah Hunter coming in after being very good in U-23s. I want it to be about the players so that frustrates me a bit to be honest, but it’s part of the job.”
With a contract that expires at the end of the Matildas’ involvement in the Olympics, and with his global stock high after the World Cup, Gustavsson clearly would have every right to explore what options there may be.
In the cut-throat world of football management, the brutal truth is that a contract extension can never be assumed, especially in the admittedly unlikely event of the Matildas failing to make the Olympics.
The corollary of that, though, is that uncertainty will invite speculation. It was put to Gustavsson that Emily van Egnond had said that as far as the players were concerned, Gustavsson would be coaching them at the Olympics, pending qualification, and that he could easily put her mind at rest.
“Well, the focus is just on qualifying right now, my contract is for the Olympics and my sole focus is there,” he replied.
Canada v Matildas
Date: Friday, 1 December 2023 (local) / Saturday, 2 December (AEDT)
Kick-off: 7.30pm PST (local) / 2.30pm (AEDT)
Venue: Starlight Stadium, Langford
Canada v Matildas
Date: Tuesday, 5 December 2023 (local) / Wednesday, 6 December (AEDT)
Kick-off: 7.00pm PST (local) / 2.00pm (AEDT)
Venue: BC Place, Vancouver
Both matches available live and free on Network 10 and Paramount+.