Thursday, October 1, 2009

Tom Sermanni's W-League season preview

The second season of the Westfield W-League will be different, no questions about that. But how and why? And what will Westfield Matildas coach Tom Sermanni be looking out for?

Hear from the man himself, who told girlswithgame what he expects when the league kicks off this weekend, including more impact from international players, some of the players to watch and that the Number 1 goalkeeping role for the AFC Cup next year is wide open.

GirlswithGame: So first up Tom, what are you expecting when the league kicks off on Saturday? Tom Sermanni: I’m hoping for a little bit more of what we saw in the first season. I think I was, like most people, pleasantly surprised with the standard in the first year. The whole league actually exceeded my expectations, particularly given the short lead in time. Now that teams have a handle on the league, they have prepared more thoroughly, I think the level of play will improve. I think teams will improve, certainly technically I think there will be a general improvement tactically and I think it will be a step up this year.

A number of senior Matildas have retired or will not be playing this year, Cheryl Salisbury, Di Alagich, Jo Peters, Alicia Ferguson, Rhian Davies, are you expecting a new breed of leaders to come through? I think there will be new leaders, but I think we saw glimpse of that already. I’m mainly hoping those players who have been on the fringes, particularly those who came back into the national team structure last year, I’m hoping they will taken on some of those leadership roles. I think some of the key younger players will really benefit from a senior season and another international season, players like Kyah Simon, Elise Kellond-Knight, Tameka Butt, I think we will see the emergence of some of those players in the competition.

Will it be a much younger league this year? Without Cheryl, Di, Joey and Alicia, well yes, that does bring the age and the number of international caps down by a lot, but we have provisions so that the league doesn’t become too young (there are just two 15-year-olds allowed per team and the rest must be 16 years of age and older), so I think overall apart from the loss of three or four really experienced players I don’t think there will be a large influx of younger ones.

What will we see more of? I think what we will see is teams will be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of other teams and will prepare more tactically, to play against certain teams or certain players. Last year they couldn’t really do that as it was so new, so I think there will be more of that. I think also we will see more impact from international players, we saw it a little bit last year but I think there will be more of it this year. From a national team perspective, I’ll be looking at individuals and seeing how they react to different situations.

Speaking of international players, what do you think about the decision by Canberra United to sign the first two Asian internationals? Particularly as the Matildas, like the Socceroos, now have to qualify for World Cups through Asia? I think it’s brilliant and I’d like to see more Asian players in the league, particularly players from countries like China and Japan to come and play in Australia would be fantastic. It just adds a different aspect, it’s a different type of player and a different skill set so across the board for Australian players to play against Asian players, who are technically very different, that’s a great thing.

From a Matildas perspective, who will you be watching this year? I’m excited about the players who went to the US to play in the new professional league over there to see if they are really going to step up. You are looking like Lisa de Vanna [Perth Glory], who had a strong season in the W-League last year, so I’ll be looking with great interest to see how beneficial that American league was. So Lisa, Heather Garriock [Sydney FC], Sarah Walsh [Sydney FC], Collette McCallum [Perth Glory] and Lydia Williams [Canberra United]. Then there is someone like Sam Kerr [Perth Glory], who I think could potentially be a player that could add a great deal of excitement to the league, could change games, that type of player, that you come to actually watch and see. If she can carry last year’s form and what she’s done this year into the league I think she’ll make an impact. Kyah Simon [Sydney FC] has the potential to make a big impact in the league. I suppose the other thing I’m looking for is some players who defensively are going to stand up really catch my eye. We’re going through a big restructure and we need the defence to step-up, I think someone like Clare Polkinghorne [Brisbane Roar], who has been around the national team for some time but is still just 20 and had a great season this year, we would hope to see the likes of her kick on this year. There just a few names, that I’m hoping will do well in the W-League this year.

The back-four is an issue for you, from the team that started in the last World Cup game the Matildas played in 2007 in China, there isn’t anyone left – is that why it’s so important for defenders to stand up? Basically at this stage, the whole defence has to be rebuilt. Over the last four or five years I could name a consistent back four or six or seven players who could all come in and assert themselves without missing a beat, now they are gone with players retiring or players dropping in or out of the system. So we are basically rebuilding the defence and that’s where I’m looking for the players to step up.

What about goalkeepers, the last two years Lydia Williams has started to move in on Melissa Barbieri’s territory and you said Australia had two number one goalkeepers, will this league be important in determining who will be first choice in the Asian Cup next year? I think when it comes to Asian Cup we will have a definitive number one goalkeeper that’s it, but I don’t think that the W-League will necessarily decide who that is. But it certainly will help give an edge to whoever does step up. But I think you don’t just look at Lydia and Babs for that, I think last year Casey [Dumont, Brisbane Roar] was the goalkeeper that was most outstanding right across the board and in fact, she was probably player of the year last year. Although she is still young, it might be that she steps up. Another great thing about the league last year is the way that someone like Alison Logue, who had been in younger national team, has suddenly taken an enormous leap. So those girls and now Emma Wirkus is fit again, there is much more depth around that goal-keeping position.

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