Davutovic: How Westfield W-League buzz is enveloping the A-League

If you want proof of the burgeoning status of women’s football and the Westfield W-League in Australia, cast your eyes down the ladder – of the A-League.

In a season that has already created history with the simultaneous kick-off of the A-League and Westfield W-League competitions, the latter is having an unprecedented impact on the men’s game – something many predict will only increase with the Women’s World Cup on its way in 2023.

A-League leaders Central Coast Mariners are coached by Alen Stajcic who made his name as a top-flight coach in the women’s game, headlined by his dominant Sydney FC Westfield W-League stint and a successful five-year spell as Westfield Matildas coach.

Lurking in second on the A-League ladder is Macarthur FC. A stellar start as an expansion club has been led by Ante Milicic, whose own Westfield Matildas stint was his first permanent standalone head role since leading his former club Sydney United in 2009, which sandwiched an extensive apprenticeship at club and international level.

The influences go on down the table. Newcastle Jets just appointed Craig Deans, who was in charge of the club’s Westfield W-League side for five years before his assistant Ash Wilson took over this season.

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Craig Deans in charge of Newcastle Jets in the A-League this season
Craig Deans earned his role as official head coach of Newcastle Jets' A-League side this season

Melbourne City coach Patrick Kisnorbo won a Westfield W-League title in 2017-18 has head coach after serving as assistant under fellow title-winner Joe Montemurro, who’s now at English giants Arsenal.

Adelaide United No 2 Ross Aloisi is among the assistants that enjoyed a spell in the women’s game, coaching United’s Westfield W-League side from 2013-15, while he was also involved in the Westfield Matildas youth setup.

So far the most successful A-League coach with involvement in the women’s game was Mike Mulvey, who led Brisbane Roar to the 2013-14 A-League title and won coach of the year. Mark Jones and Alistair Edwards also coached women’s football before taking A-League roles with Newcastle Jets and Perth Glory respectively.

Stajcic said all experiences should be viewed equally, regardless of whether they’re leading men’s or women’s teams.

 “I don’t think it’s specifically helped me. Any type of coaching helps your next coaching job regardless of what age, gender you’re coaching. It all becomes part of the journey and learning process,” the Mariners boss said.

 “Having coached through the whole spectrum, state, national youth teams, sports high school teams, all been experiences I’ve gathered which have helped me. From playing semi-pro to full time coaching from age 27, 28, from under 13-14 to elite football with national teams.

 “The perception of women’s football has changed in Australian in the last 10 years and especially in the last five years.”

Alen Stajcic embraces Mariners defender Ruon Tongyik
Alen Stajcic embraces Mariners defender Ruon Tongyik

 Milicic relished his international stint, with his Westfield Matildas assistant Ivan Jolic also joining him at Macarthur FC, and believes that influence will only grow with the rising investment in women’s football home and abroad.

 He believed the A-League and Westfield W-League would benefit from the increased awareness and the 2023 FIFA World Cup on home soil.

“It was a great experience. The way the women’s game is improving at such a rapid rate, we have a good participation (base) and growth in Australia and it’s an opportunity that we need to capitalise on,” Milicic said.

“It’s not only the women’s game that will benefit (from 2023) but Australian football. When we got the (World Cup), that was a huge buzz.

 “If you see in Europe what the men’s leagues are doing and how that’s having an affiliation with the women’s teams, that’s (the) next step.”

Ante Milicic addressing the Westfield Matildas at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup
Ante Milicic addressing the Westfield Matildas at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup