Q&A with Westfield Matildas Coach Tom Sermanni

You asked, Westfield Matildas Coach Tom Sermanni answered!

You asked, Westfield Matildas Coach Tom Sermanni answered!

We asked Girls FC fans what they most wanted to hear about from Tom leading into one of the biggest football challenges he-s faced, the FIFA Women-s World Cup…

Girls FC: What-s the mood in the Westfield Matildas camp (the fourth of their World Cup prep)?

Tom: Very positive, very competitive, very upbeat. The players are obviously of feeling that there- a great deal of competition for places in this team. The individual stress on the players is a little bit higher than before, but they-re dealing with it well.

Girls FC: What-s surprised you most about the camps to date?

Tom: I thought that after four camps, I would see a bigger degree of separation between players. I haven-t seen that, to be honest. Looking at selection is becoming more and more difficult as the camps go along—nobody-s dropped off the pace.

Girls FC: Does that mean a few sleepless nights for you?

Tom: Sleeping-s never usually a problem for me [laughs]. What it-s meant is a lot of soul searching and it-ll come down to me making marginal judgement calls.

Girls FC: Can you tell us about that April Fool-s joke?

Tom: I was guilty of aiding and abetting [laughs]. The idea spawned from Melissa and Walshy, who phoned me about 10.45pm the night before.

Girls FC: They said the thought they woke you up?

Tom: Most times they would have woken me up, but not this time. I was watching TV. When I saw their number (it was either Melissa-s or Walshy-s) come up in my phone, I thought saw something-s wrong here [as in a serious injury, which is a logical assumption!]. The plot was hatched there.

Obviously we didn-t have much time to plan and things happened off the cuff. The masterstroke was that Mike McGovern set the scene. He was very convincing and really laid it on, saying that we-d been negotiating and couldn-t come to agreement, that I-d tendered my resignation with immediate effect. There-s always a lot of danger with that kind of joke that the players will cheer [For the record, they didn-t. They were gutted!]. Got to keep them on their toes.

Girls FC: What happens after this camp?

Tom: The three goalkeepers are pretty set, but there are 31 players in the frame for 18 spots, and you can-t keep carrying a squad of that size. It-s always been my intention to give players an opportunity to perform and to then assess them, and I think we-ve done that as best we can. The next step is the Central Coast camp. The three overseas players will be coming back for that. We-ll need to cut the group down to 25. I-ll have to sit down with Spencer and make some tough decisions.

Girls FC: We know you can-t give us any hints, but is there anything in particular you-re looking for in the players?

Tom: I think I-ve seen what I can see and they-ve given what they can give. It-s now down to me sitting down and saying this is the type of player I need and considering the balance of the squad.

Girls FC: How do you think the media will get behind the Westfield Matildas?

Tom: They will get behind us, but I think it will be how well we perform. I think one thing we showed in the 2010 Asian Cup and the 2007 World Cup is that we play with character. I think the media and the public warmed to the team because of how they played the game. If we can play with that same passion and that same commitment and Australian way during the World Cup, I think the media will get behind us.

Girls FC: What influence will the Westfield Matildas doing well in Germany will have on the women-s game in Australia and the future expansion of the Westfield W-League?

Tom: I hope it will have an impact. The premier team in any sport heightens the profile, and then inspires lots of young players to take up the sport. Success in the World Cup is potentially very important for growing the league.

Girls FC: What is your best method of raising team spirit at half time, especially if the Westfield Matildas aren-t winning?

Tom: Swearing and shouting and screaming and kicking hampers and things [laughs]. I don-t think there-s one. There-s no definitive methodology that works all the time. Sometimes you-ve got to pick them up and sometimes you-ve got to give them a rocket.

For example, when we were playing Brazil and the score was 1-2, the team was really shell-shocked because we couldn-t get any rhythm. I needed to boost them up and emphasise that we-re playing Brazil in the quarter finals and we-re still in the game. So you really needed to build them up.

In another game, if they-ve been sloppy, lazy, lacking concentration, you need to fire them and gets their heads back where should be. So you have to judge the moment. The third thing is to make specific tactical changes to change momentum of the game.

Girls FC: Should female players stay in mixed teams as long as possible or play in female-only teams once they reach a certain age?

Tom: I believe that if female players can cope with them, they should stay in male teams as long as they can. It gives them a higher level of competition, intensity, and standard.

Girls FC: How do the players normally take it when they don-t make it to the next stage? What-s in place for them coping mechanism-wise?

Tom: It-s not easy. It-s always a difficult conversation. It-s important to lay the groundwork generally across the squad first—40% of the players currently in camp won-t go to the World Cup. We have a support network behind us in the states and the AIS, so if they need to speak to a sports psychologist we set that up.

We also emphasise that it-s not the end of their career and there-s always an opportunity to return to the squad—sometimes players make it and sometimes players don-t. With the Westfield W-League up and running, there are always more opportunities to re-establish themselves in the team. For example, Hayley Crawford and Catherine Cannuli, both in their 20s, came back into the squad this time around. Essentially, there-s hope they didn-t have before. So hopefully players will take that away with them.

Girls FC: There are a couple of youngsters in the team. How are they going? Are they being mentored by any of the older players?

Tom: They seem to fit like a glove [laughs]. They have a carefree approach and don-t seem to be phased by anything. In the past, they used to be intimidated, but our young players aren-t at all. You-ve also got to give credit to the senior players for that, because they-ve created an environment where young players aren-t intimidated. You often see hierarchical structures in teams, where the older players make it difficult for the younger ones. You don-t see anybody doing that in this squad.

Girls FC: Finally, what-s going on behind the scenes that Girls FC fans would be keen to know about?

Tom: Lots of things. For example, we have a World Cup outfit [stay tuned for more info on this soon], so players have been going in groups to get fittings done. We-ve had a Nike shoot, a Women-s Health shoot—the players are coming to training afterwards with make-up on [laughs]. We-ve done some leadership work and we have pilates sessions. So, lots of things!

Girls FC: Thanks for taking the time out to speak with us, Tom! Good luck with the rest of the World Cup preparation!