Government backing ‘vital’ to Matildas lifting home World Cup, says Checker

Full story first published on SBS’ The World Game:

Matildas and Melbourne City defender Emma Checker has backed Football Australia’s push for extra high-performance funding ahead of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, saying the investment would supercharge the Matildas’ efforts to lift the trophy on home soil.

As part of the federation’s efforts to capitalise on the imminent arrival of women’s football’s showcase event to Australia, CEO James Johnson is set to meet with senior government figures in Canberra today to attempt to secure approximately $275 million with of funding over eight years to cement a lasting legacy.

These will be spread across five key pillars identified by Football Australia as part of its “Legacy 23” plan: community facilities, high performance, participation, tourism and international engagement, and leadership and development.

Part of this funding, the governing body envisions, will see the government investing upwards of $16 million in high-performance programs to supercharge the Matildas’ preparations for the 2023 World Cup as well as reinvigorate the junior programs that exist below through the creation of under-15s, under-16s, under-18s and under-19s age groups.

An extra 92 domestic camps would be staged across the various age groups as part of the plans, and an additional 38 international tours for youth national teams – an area identified by Football Australia’s recent Performance Gap report as an area needing improvment – would take place.

“We’re going to need about $16.5 million for the 2021-2024 cycle to allow this team to unlock its potential and win a Women’s World Cup,” Johnson told AAP.

“The investment that we need is really to ensure that our Matildas can play more matches against unique opponents. This is really important to us.

“And secondly, that our youth national activity is really invested in over the next three years so that we can also broaden the core players that can play at this level.”

Speaking to The World Game, Checker said that the push to stage more camps was a valuable one, as they helped bring teams together in a way that no amount of talent could mask.

In contrast to the United States and Europe’s top sides, the Matildas haven’t been in a camp, or even played, since qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics last March – meaning they are yet to take the field in any form under new coach Tony Gustavsson.

The closest approximation to a formal gathering was a Women’s Talent Identification Camp held in Canberra last November, which featured just a single internationally capped player in Ellie Brush.

“That’s where you gel,” Checker said of the importance of training camps. “That’s how you learn how to play with your teammates.

“You can be the best group of individuals in the world but if you don’t have an understanding for each other then you can’t play as a team.

“Our circumstances [at Melbourne City in the 2020-21 W-League season] are a really good example of that. We found it really hard to gel initially and with that time we’ve worked into a position where we’re a really tight-knit group on the field, and it’s the same kind of thing [at national level].

“If you don’t have that preparation time together you can’t learn how to play together, you don’t know how to echo each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Even if you know them from watching your teammates play, it’s not the same as feeling that on the pitch and you get to know each other as people and you then know how to deal with each other according to different personality types.

“Those camps are just vital, especially for big tournaments, but just in general it’s really important the group is brought together frequently so those relationships become stronger.”

Checker, 24, last featured for the Matildas in two friendlies staged against Chile in November 2019. Joining the flood of Australian women heading to Europe in the months that followed she signed with French side FC Fleury 91, only for a stress fracture in her fibular to cut short her tenure.

She subsequently returned to Australia and signed with Melbourne City for the 2020-21 W-League season, returning to action in their 3-2 win over Melbourne Victory after completing her rehab.

The Adelaide-born centre back is excited about the competitive advantages that a World Cup on home soil can bring but reiterated that that wouldn’t be enough if Australia was genuine in challenging for its first-ever World Cup.

[Camps and investment] are a big part of working towards that goal, and I think it is a realistic goal,” she said.

“There’s a massive home advantage and the team’s still in form, even if there have been a lot fewer games.

“I believe that few extra camps here and there will bring everyone back together and get us back to where we were, and that would be a really big part of achieving that goal.

“There’s a lot more work that needs to go into it than just using that home-field advantage.”

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