His overall record, and the way FFA handled his sacking, is what turned a more black and white decision into one filled with grey.
How could a coach boasting such results and such a loved team be sacked months from a World Cup where they were tipped to challenge for the trophy? The FFA didn’t help answer that question.
Pointing to player welfare surveys and evoking Our Watch – a fantastic, world-leading women’s rights group whose inclusion unfortunately raised unhelpful and irrelevant connotations – was foolish.
FFA chief executive David Gallop’s press conference where he asked “are we done?” while journalists still lobbed questions into FFA’s information vacuum was symptomatic of the baffling approach. Many Matildas found out about the decision through the media.
FFA could have pointed to player burnout and signs of instability around some results after the 2016 Olympics, and poor performances (despite a runner up-finish) at the 2018 Asian Cup as reason enough.
Not doing so had damaging and unfair impacts on Stajcic’s reputation.
First it is important to stress that Stajcic was incredible for this team and many players like him and respect him and won’t say a bad word about him.
He was a brilliant coach but in this writer’s opinion, based on conversations with Australian women’s soccer sources, Stajcic was ultimately a victim of the long-term lack of investment and therefore professionalism in the Matildas’ environment.
Note Sam Kerr’s comments of new coach Ante Milicic to ESPN last year: “He’s brought a level of professionalism the women don’t usually see … I think that comes from coaching the Socceroos and knowing how the men have been treated. He’s been going to the federation and fighting for us.”
The Matildas now travel with a full-time massage therapist and feel emboldened to complain and be particular with their catering demands.
They trained at the same high-tech sport science facility as the Socceroos did ahead of the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
“Ante set that up for us,” Kerr said. “It feels so good. He’s created an atmosphere where everyone wants to be better and give more.”
Other sources close to the team said there is more certainty around training length and camp activity scheduling consistency under Milicic. There is better communication between national team staff members about the players’ wellbeing, and medical staff have more of a say in managing player loads.
Players are listened to more by the coaches and staff and feel they can speak up more and be involved more in decision-making. This better communication and organisation has resulted in, for example, overseas Matildas Kerr and Emily Gielnik not being forced to fly to Sydney for camp this week ahead of the China Olympic qualifying tournament to save them from too much time in transit.
Some also feel it is a more even playing field within the squad under Milicic and there are no favourites. There was previously in some people’s minds a culture where particular players were appeased. This has helped camp become a happier place.
Stajcic’s sacking also triggered structural changes. There will be an audit into national team pay, staffing levels and conditions to ensure this is equitable across men’s and women’s teams. There will be a clear policy formulated on intra-squad relationships and rooming.
There will be an effort to achieve gender balance among team support staff, a whistleblower policy and clearer, more direct reporting on national team progress to the FFA board.
Unrelated to Stacjic’s sacking is the closure of the pay gap between the Socceroos and Matildas and the women getting business-class travel.
Maybe all of this could have changed under Stajcic’s watch but perhaps a clean break from the past was needed to properly usher in such upheaval.
Milicic will finish as coach after the Tokyo Olympics and sources indicate there is some anxiety in the squad about getting a new coach, with some wondering if the new standards will remain.
There are also selection problems. Matildas legend Lisa De Vanna was told she was part of Milicic’s Olympic plans but was not selected in the squad for qualifiers despite her cracking form for Fiorentina in Serie A. Youngster Mary Fowler’s non-selection has also raised eyebrows in her camp.
Katrina Gorry, crucial to the Matildas’ success, was slapped with a massive pay cut when her Matildas retainer contract wasn’t renewed, but weeks later was picked in the squad for the Olympic qualifiers.
Anthony is a sports reporter at The Age.