The difference a year makes

by Ashley Morrison on Sep 21, 2011

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A year ago Matildas’ captain Melissa Barbieri may not have been on top of the world, but she was certainly on top of Asia, having lifted the Asian Cup; the team becoming Australia’s first to win a FIFA sanctioned tournament.

Fast forward a year and she has recently lost her number one position in the national team, replaced by undoubted talent Lydia Williams. If that was not pain enough the team just missed out on qualification for London 2012, so there will be no Olympics for the girls next year.

She returned to Australia no doubt hoping to focus on the upcoming W-League, only to be told that Melbourne Victory have decided that they will not sign her this season, as they are opting for youngster Brianna Davey.

This is where the women’s game has a problem, and the question must be asked; should the FFA have stepped in? Or should they stay out of it?

The Melbourne Victory’s W-League coach Vicki Linton, who is also head coach of the national under 16 women’s team, is in a very difficult position. On the one hand she has to identify young talent and bring it through, on the other she has to have a certain level of success or she will find herself without one of the limited coaching positions in Australia. It is a fine line between achieving both goals and one needs understanding administrators.

Barbieri is not alone as an international goalkeeper being cut from a top club. If we go back to 1967, before Barbieri was even born, Gordon Banks had won the World Cup with England just a year earlier but was put on the transfer list by Leicester City.

Banks at the time was regarded as the best goalkeeper in the world, yet Leicester City had a talented 17-year-old called Peter Shilton who was refusing to sign a professional contract with the club unless he was guaranteed first team football.

Banks left for Stoke City where he continued to excel, until a car crash and the loss of sight in one eye brought the curtain down on his outstanding career. Peter Shilton also went on to have a hugely successful career.

Australia is however a far cry from England and the women’s game differs from the men’s.

For a start there are not many options open to Barbieri. Stoke is just down the road from Leicester, so Banks did not have far to move. Barbieri will undoubtedly have to move interstate if she wants to pursue her W-League and ultimately her international career.

Melissa Barbieri is the only married member of the Matildas, and therefore she has roots in Melbourne and Victoria. The decision to move interstate is therefore going to put her under a different kind of pressure; unless a side allows her to train in Victoria and fly in for games, but that is not in the best interests of the team she joins.

If she were not the Matildas’ captain this would probably not be such an issue. However she is and in the interests of Australian football she needs to be playing week in, week out.

Should moves be made in the background to assist the national captain find a club that means she can continue playing, and still have harmony at home? As any coach will tell you a player who has problems at home will not perform to the highest level.

There is no doubt that Vicki Linton should be making the decisions regarding her squad. However in the interests of the national team, who already play too few games, we have to ensure that players are involved in the W- League and have access to the maximum top-level games in Australia.