#FIFA Women's World Cup

Tony Gustavsson on managing a squad and setting core values

Tony Gustavsson, 16 Apr 2024


Home favourites Australia finished fourth at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™, the country’s best result at any men’s or women’s World Cup. In this interview, Head Coach Tony Gustavsson discusses his approach to people management and his impressions of the tournament

Managing people first and players second 
Particularly during a tournament, managing your squad and their expectations is usually the biggest challenge for a head coach. It is inevitable that some players will get less playing time than others, for example, and that different players will handle pressure in different ways. Gustavsson is a firm believer that managers need to draw up a plan in advance that will help them and their team to cope with the ebb and flow of tournament football, and a key part of Australia’s strategy at the last World Cup was to identify the squad’s core values fully 18 months before the opening game. 

Core values and mindset 
Those core values really came into their own in adversity, including after the Matildas lost 3-2 to Nigeria in their second group game. The Australians were able to fall back on their core values and shared identity to regroup, and they went on to hammer Canada 4-0 to qualify for the Round of 16. These core values were also in evidence when captain and star player Sam Kerr was injured the night before the opening game. This was a huge shock to the squad, but the strong foundation they had built as a group helped them maintain their self-belief. 

Planning to be flexible  
One of the major trends to emerge from last year’s tournament was that of increased tactical variety within the women’s game. To prepare for this, Gustavsson and his staff spent much of the pre-tournament training camp exposing the Matildas to a wide variety of different formations and playing styles. They also emphasised the importance of players being able to communicate effectively on the pitch, which allowed them to react quickly as the game developed without having to wait for instructions from the touchline.  

Winning more than medals 
As the women’s game has grown in popularity, players and coaches have come under more scrutiny from fans and the media. As one of the host nations, Australia were under more pressure than most, and they planned accordingly to manage the emotions associated with a World Cup on home soil. Nevertheless, the team were very much conscious of the significance of the tournament for Australian fans, and although they failed to come away with a medal, they arguably won something even more valuable: they captured the hearts of football fans across Australia and around the world.

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