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The stand-off between players and coach Hesterine de Reus for control of the Australian women’s football team was ended abruptly on Thursday afternoon when the Dutchwoman was sacked as head coach.
Football Federation Australia announced this month it would investigate the complaints from the players regarding the coach, with speculation shortly after that de Reus’s fate was inevitable.
At lunch on Thursday, FFA chief executive David Gallop released a statement confirming her reign had been brought to an abrupt halt.
Hesterine De Reus is no longer coach of the Australian Matildas. Photo: Getty Images
“After a review by FFA it was determined that a change in coaches was in best interests of the Matildas program,” Gallop said.
Into the breach steps the well-credentialled Alen Stajic, a veteran of women’s coaching – most recently with Sydney FC – and much more popular figure among the players.
He will take charge of the team for next month’s Asian Cup in Vietnam on an interim basis, and is a chance to keep the job permanently for next year’s World Cup in Canada.
Ex-coach Tom Sermanni is also contender to resume the Matildas role, having been fired from his job as coach of the US women’s national team a fortnight ago.
A “comprehensive review of the Matildas program” will be launched by the FFA as soon as the Asian Cup, which the Matildas won in 2010, is complete.
It is known that several players have been agitating for change for some time – some appealing directly to the FFA and their union, Professional Footballers Australia, to intervene.
The recent Cyprus Cup in March was a flashpoint for tensions, with disenchanted players claiming de Reus kept an unusually tight rein on their non-training activities, such as going out for lunch or coffee. However, the PFA said the issues ran much deeper.
“Members of the Matildas have professionally and discretely raised with the PFA a number of important issues regarding compliance with the Matildas’ collective bargaining agreement [2013 – 2015] between Football Federation Australia and the PFA as well as worrying workplace practices,” PFA chief executive Adam Vivian last week said.
Eleven key points of contention were addressed by the PFA, most notably the “disregard for player wellbeing and development and commitments outside of the game”, as well as the “intimation of non-selection if players take overseas contracts”.
Given the shortness of the W-League season, playing abroad is the only way several top players can earn a year-round living from the game.
Known for her uncompromising style, de Reus was brought in to create a more ruthless environment than that under Sermanni, generally considered very accommodating towards the players, especially regarding work or family commitments.
However, not everyone in the game had it in for de Reus. One critic of the recent process has been former Matilda Joey Peters, who took to Twitter to vent her frustration.
“Such drastic measures with so little explanation. #pleaseexplain,” she said. Peters then addressed the FFA’s own press release, which suggested the decision was somewhat mutual: “‘Leaves’ means ‘of own choice’ which is hardly the case. If they have taken such drastic measures, why don’t they name it as such?”
When Peters suggested “If it ain’t hard enough for women in sport, we turn on each other”, former international teammate Julie Dolan replied: “Not a culture that I care to know, Joey. And not one built by many, many former Matildas.”