Tom Smithies: Gielnik’s ‘big picture’ plan to unite Australian football begins in Westfield W-League

Emily Gielnik calls it “the big picture”. How to channel the surging interest in women’s football, bind it together with the men’s game, and create a powerhouse that is simply “football”.

The Matildas striker can see the opportunities cast by the 2023 Women’s World Cup coming to Australia and has put everyone – from fans to players – on notice that those opportunities need to be taken as hungrily as any self-respecting striker would expect.

Back in the colours of Brisbane Roar for the imminent Westfield W-League season, Gielnik – veteran of 31 caps for her country – can see only value in the men’s and women’s leagues starting concurrently for the first time on December 27 and featuring a clutch of doubleheaders throughout the season.

With every Westfield W-League game streamed live on Kayo, and dozens of games shown live on Fox Sports and ABC TV, the profile will be there, Gielnik believes – then it’s up to the players to keep fans tuning in.

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“The big picture for me is having a continuous, week to week (Westfield W-League) curtainraiser for the men’s (games),” Gielnik said. “It’s important to integrate men’s and women’s football, to put football generally on the map as we count down towards 2023.

“This is the starting ground for the future of football. If we can get more aligned with the men’s game and equal things up, it’s looking promising.

“Three years (until the World Cup) is going to go like that so it needs to start this season. If those small changes are made we can see a large increase in people interested in women’s football.”

Even having a clutch of senior Matildas stationed overseas this Westfield W-League season needn’t be a dampener, Gielnik argued, if a fresh crop of faces take the chance to write their own headlines.

“The good thing is it’s so uncertain and so unknown,” she said. “Remember the days when Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord were the young ones, 15-year-olds who shocked the world and Australia?

“It’s an amazing opportunity for those young players after the squad depth was so deep in recent years. If I was in their position, it’s a major chance to put themselves on the football map for those young players who are hungry.”

That includes the chance to impress incoming Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson who so far has been unable to meet his new charges due to COVID-19 restrictions around the world.

Instead club form will be the be-all and end-all for any player hoping to catch the Swede’s eye ahead of the Olympics later this year.

“Even for those already on the scene, it’s a fresh start and a clean slate,” Gielnik said.

“I’m a big believer in not becoming complacent – of course he’s been informed of the players that he has and what they’ve done in the past few years. But I’m not taking any chances on what he’s seen, or what he’s going to see.

“That’s my focus, proving to him that I’m working hard enough to stay in the national teams and stay on that pathway towards the Olympics.”

Emily Gielnik