WSL Matildas: The Australians in the footsteps of Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord

WSL Matildas: The Australians in the footsteps of Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord

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Caitlin Foord celebrates scoring against SpainArsenal’s Caitlin Foord scored in Australia’s impressive 3-2 win over Spain on Sunday

If Australia co-hosts the World Cup in July, almost half of Matildas’ squad is likely to come from the Women’s Super League.

It has been 11 years since Australia made their debut in the WSL and many of the country’s current players have moved to English clubs, including Arsenal’s Steph Catley and Caitlin Foord and Manchester City’s Hayley Raso.

But what is driving this move, how is it affecting the Australian national team and how popular is WSL in the players’ home country?

A competitive advantage

WSL’s appeal to foreign players is obvious – a full-time professional league, impressive facilities and challenging daily training sessions.

“It’s so beneficial for me as a player to be in this environment and to train at a high level full-time,” Clare Wheeler, the Australia midfielder who joined Everton on a permanent basis in January, told InNewCL Sport.

“The caliber of the players makes it very exciting and the environment of choice for many of us.”

Clare Wheeler and Sam Kerr in trainingClare Wheeler and Sam Kerr are among the 13 Australian players in the WSL – the most of any non-British country

Time zones and distances can pose problems, with daunting flight times for international games, as well as short time slots before training and at night to chat with friends and family in Australia.

However, those are surmountable challenges in return for playing in one of the few full-time professional women’s leagues in the world.

“It means players have a full calendar year of football to build their lives around,” explains Australian football writer Samantha Lewis.

“Before that, most Australian players had to play in several shorter leagues, such as between Australia and America, to make ends meet and stay fit throughout the year.

“This back-to-back league schedule often resulted in players getting injured or just burning out because they never got a proper break.

“WSL offers a competitive format that male players have afforded for decades where players work as full-time professionals.”

Sam Kerr on his ‘home away from home’ at Chelsea

Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson encourages his players to find the “most competitive” job, says Wheeler, who made her senior international debut three months after joining then-Danish champions Fortuna Hjorring from Sydney in June 2021.

“Back in Australia, I went back to my hometown of Newcastle for four or five months of the season to play in the A-League,” she recalls.

“Then I would have to go back to university in Sydney and change my life every seven or eight months. That was difficult for a few years.

“Now it’s just nice to know that I’m here and that I live here. I can actually put down some roots and have long seasons of more than 15 games in a year at a high level. That’s something you need as a professional athlete. ” .”

Promote established and rising stars

Matilda’s captain Sam Kerr excelled in England, honing her immense talent to become a shrewd and clinical inspiration for Chelsea, winning the Golden Boot twice.

“She has arguably become the best striker in the world, not only because of the number of goals she scores, but also because of the way she scores them,” says Lewis, citing Wheeler as one of the players who also ” Complexity and technique have “increased” their game.

“European nations are emerging as the next big powerhouses in international tournaments after the US. So if the Matildas want to keep up with the rest of the world, they have to learn how the rest of the world plays.”

Clare Wheeler smiles in an interviewWheeler joined Everton in August 2022, initially on loan from Danish club Fortuna Hjorring, and has won eleven caps

Adaptation is also required to cope with the weather, Wheeler admits, adding that England otherwise “feels like home”.

The 25-year-old cites teenage Mary Fowler’s four-year deal at Manchester City and 20-year-old defender Courtney Nevin’s move from Hammarby to Leicester as examples of the next generation of Australian stars being shaped by experiences in England and Europe.

“Mary’s only 19 so coming into the league so early and signing up at such a young age will only do the Matildas good,” she says.

“We’ve seen Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord thrive nationally and internationally since arriving here.

“A lot of players want to do that too. Growing up I didn’t see many Australian players for these big clubs.

“I wouldn’t be surprised afterwards if more people want to get involved and do what they’ve been doing since they came here.”

The Australian WSL fan club

More leading players in England mean more demand to tune in from the other side of the world.

Watching WSL live can be difficult for Australian fans, not only because of the time difference but also for those who want to watch games on free-to-air TV, but Lewis says access to it is much better and fans are particularly invested in Chelsea , Arsenal and the Manchester clubs.

“People in Australia think it’s great to have such a strong league and fanbase here in the UK,” says Wheeler.

“They’re still surprised when I tell them we’ve had a couple of sell-out games and stuff like that at Everton. With more players in this league, it will just keep growing.”

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