Opinions and debate should be the lifeblood of growth for our game – we have to embrace them

After her reaction to a Liberty A-League game drew criticism, player-turned-pundit Rhali Dobson says strong punditry is part of football’s maturity.

I’ve sat in dressing rooms after my team has been hammered, and they are not nice places to be. Depending on the culture of the team, there will be honest conversations, maybe some unpleasant home truths.

Or there should be. There should be a reckoning, there should be criticism, or that team won’t bounce back or improve. But simply pretending that everything went well, smiling on through, will only lead one way.

Like a team, so football as a sport (and particularly women’s football), needs to allow the exchange of views and the critique of decisions to help it grow. As the professionalism of women’s football in Australia has speeded up, we need more than ever to ensure the analysis, the debates and the arguments are similarly advanced beyond simply applauding everything that happens.

Even as a player I believed that honest opinions were worth a thousand platitudes in terms of developing the game at every level. As a former Newcastle player in particular, I was shocked by their capitulation to Western United a couple of weeks ago, and said as much on the Liberty A-League Podcast shortly after.

One comment in particular has caused some angst; my suggesting that after the Jets walked out for the game carrying puppies, the baby dogs might have given Western a stiffer test. It was meant to be a humorous way of addressing a serious point. The fact that players at the Jets and at other clubs were more upset by the comment than they are by the result (and performance) was to me quite revealing.

I recently spent several weeks in Europe, watching games live and on TV in various countries. The coverage and the level of debate was intoxicating, from fans walking out of the ground to the pundits on TV – let alone the pages and pages online.

The opinions of pundits such as Roy Keane, left, provoke football debate in the UK.

Opinions are strident on players’ performances, their personalities, their futures. Pundits like Roy Keane and Graeme Souness can be savage – it’s all part of the game. Emma Hayes, the Chelsea coach, gets it – she has spoken of the Women’s Super League in England needing to be prepared to handle all of the focus, good and bad, that comes with a rapidly growing profile.

Coming back home, I’m reminded that we are still a young, developing, women’s football nation. There is a fear of saying something negative in case it’s to the detriment of the game. But debate is the life blood of anything that people care about.

As the old saying has it, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. We want women’s football, and particularly the A-League Women, to expand its profile in this country beyond those fleeting moments when the Matildas are in town or are playing in a tournament.

Just as football coverage in every country in Europe is dominated by debate and critique, we want to develop a culture here where fans are engaged and entertained as much by the Monday-to-Friday coverage as they are by the actual games at weekends.

It’s not that long ago that the Matildas were forced to pose nude for a calendar to raise funds and awareness of the team. That was clearly part of myriad sacrifices and efforts made by generations of players to push the game forward, but surely we now can have confidence in the football itself to be the driver of debate and engagement? To me, it’s a thousand times preferable for naked opinions to be gathering attention, rather than naked bodies.