Sam Kerr: a Matildas leader in Ante Milicic’s own image

With fifteen minutes to play in opposition to New Zealand on Thursday night time, and gamers coming off combined preparations in heat circumstances in Sydney, the Matildas started to really feel the chunk of the primary week’s induction beneath new coach, Ante Milicic.

Steph Catley, with the armband after Sam Kerr was substituted across the hour mark, approached the Australian bench for a water bottle throughout a brief break in play – and earlier than assist workers, physios or anybody might reply, who was first to reply her request? The girl Milicic has entrusted to guide his crew, Kerr.

It was a easy motion that had not one of the ego befitting her celebrity standing, and all of the hallmarks of the quiet management she intends to deliver to the Matildas within the post-Stajcic period. Her fast response not simply displaying the mantra of “crew first”, but in addition her assist for her deputy, and the brand new chief on the sphere in her absence.

Earlier within the week, the brand new Matildas boss instructed media how the choice to make Kerr his on-field exemplar was a easy one: “She’s a frontrunner, she’s fearless, she’s essential to this crew”. For the long-time Socceroos assistant, Kerr’s affect reminded him of Tim Cahill – a star constructed as a lot from uncooked expertise as from exhausting work, self-discipline and self-belief.

It’s a mutual appreciation society, with Kerr’s feedback of reward for the Matildas’ first week beneath Milicic extra than simply the usual platitudes inspired by FFA HQ a couple of clear slate or new atmosphere. In references to the “enjoyable” atmosphere inside camp and the enjoyment at “enjoying freely” the shadow of earlier criticisms sneaks via. Below his predecessor, Alen Stajcic, the calls for for fixed enchancment had lengthy tipped into negativity; the need to regulate the ambiance surrounding the crew had change into stultifying.

On the touchline, Milicic reduce a peaceful determine – there was no ranting, no raving – his manner extra suiting a veteran of fifty video games, not a brand new coach in control of his first fixture. It was a calmness and endurance that transferred to his gamers, with the Matildas displaying stage heads as they went about breaking down a New Zealand defence bolstered by the return of the imperious Abby Erceg.

Kerr has already spoken publicly of the quiet perception that Milicic has in his ideas and requirements – and of their method, the Matildas confirmed the affect of the Ange Postecoglou imaginative and prescient for Australian soccer.

“These ladies are superb footballers,” stated Milicic on the post-game press convention, “and I believe that’s the Australian means: we need to dominate possession, we would like the opposition to chase.” When journalists famous that his facet performed completely out from the again, Milicic rejoined with out hesitation: “After all – as a result of that’s managed possession – we would like the ball, as a result of that’s how our gamers take pleasure in themselves.”

In distinction with the “dying or glory” method of Postecoglou’s 2015 World Cup crew that nearly upset more-vaunted opponents, the Netherlands and Chile, however noticed them well-beaten by Spain, the primary look on the Milicic-era Matildas suggests a bit extra circumspection.

There have been no bombing fullbacks, with Catley and Ellie Carpenter observing their defensive duties forward of their offensive contributions – and the midfield three of Elise Kellond-Knight, Tameka Butt and Emily Van Egmond confirmed steadiness and a vigilance in opposition to the counter-attack not at all times displayed by Postecoglou’s Socceroos.

And regardless of the acutely aware elevation of Kerr because the talisman for the crew – evident within the early makes an attempt by teammates to unleash the striker lately voted within the top-three feminine gamers on this planet – that the objectives finally got here from gamers not heralded because the “massive names” contained in the squad, Emily Gielnik and Hayley Raso, speaks to a brand new ethos of egalitarianism throughout the squad.

“I stated the primary day we acquired into camp: that is the nationwide crew,” Milicic defined post-game. “The one assure I give anybody is three video games, so everybody goes to get a possibility – each subject participant will get sport time in these [Cup of Nations] video games.”

Amy Harrison, a participant not chosen in Milicic’s unique 23 however drafted in following harm to Chloe Logarzo, was handed thirty minutes within the important No 10 function instead of Van Egmond. She rewarded her coach’s present of religion instantly, placing on a high-quality ball to search out Raso for the Matildas’ second objective. It was a daring change, however Milicic’s perception proved well-founded.

Alex Chidiac solely entered the fray within the 78th minute after harm to Tameka Butt, suggesting maybe a much bigger function in sport two or three for the Atlético Madrid midfielder. As an alternative of an over-reliance on trusted senior gamers – the primary substitutes of the Milicic period had been telling. Off got here Kerr, Van Egmond, Kellond-Knight and Kennedy. The main lights had been eliminated main solely 1-0, however the challengers got here in and repaid their coach’s religion with aplomb.

With exceptional depth throughout the Australian ranks – don’t neglect this can be a facet awaiting the return of former AFC girls’s participant of the yr Katrina Gorry, skilled striker Kyah Simon and the quickly enhancing Logarzo. No person’s place is secured. Besides maybe for Kerr.

The on-field chief and off-field joker already seems the proper complement for her new boss, whose status for work ethic and professionalism is countered by his expressed want to discover a beach-side camp for his crew forward of France 2019 so his gamers can calm down. It’s a promising double act, and an important dynamic for a facet that already seems to have gone someway to retaining its swagger and self-belief.

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