Monday 05 October 2020, 01:58

Recalibrated Matildas united by Kangaroo Route

  • Australia’s squad now based entirely in Europe

  • Massive shift for the 2023 Women’s World Cup co-hosts

  • Eight first-team players moved to England over the past year

One of the fascinating aspects of women’s football over recent years has been how quickly the landscape can change, from a massive upswing in crowds to growing on-field standards and media interest. Europe’s collective statement of intent at last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™, and widespread investment in a dynamic club scene, are yet more significant examples specific to the Old Continent.

Such growth in countries such as Spain, Italy, Netherlands and, in particular, England has changed the thinking for 2023 Women’s World Cup co-hosts Australia and their star-studded roster.

Heading into the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup, just two of Australia’s 23 players were on the books of European clubs. Fast forward a little over two years and the entire squad from March’s AFC Olympic Football Tournament play-off are now based in Europe.

The likes of Elise Kellond-Knight, Tameka Yallop and Aivi Luik were some of the few to have enjoyed lengthy spells in Europe. But then something unexpected happened - and typically it was Sam Kerr leading the way. The prolific striker ended a hugely profitable spell in USA’s NWSL to take up an offer to join Chelsea late last year. A few months later, three more key players – Caitlin Foord, Hayley Raso and Chloe Logarzo – exited mid-W-League season to follow suit.

Suddenly, the trickle became a flood. The Kangaroo Route, the old-fashioned airplane ‘hop’ that took passengers from Australia to Europe in days gone by, suddenly had a new sporting context.

Thirteen Aussies took the field in last season’s NWSL, but the reason for a change in direction for 2020 is multi-layered. “I did sense a push for players to go to Europe,” Australia left-sided midfielder Elise Kellond-Knight, who has spent a large part of the past decade in Europe, told

“The Matildas coaching staff identified that we didn’t perform against European teams (last year) and we haven’t in recent years, so that is a weakness. It is true that the biggest factor is COVID. The fact the American league couldn’t go ahead gave everyone a push as well, so there were a few factors.

“We have several players who have never played in Europe so it will be super beneficial for them,” said Kellond-Knight, who previously enjoyed a lengthy successful spell at Turbine Potsdam and is currently on the books of Sweden’s Kristianstads. ‘KK's' current home could barely be further from her Gold Coast base, both figuratively and literally, and her other sporting passion - surfing - is out of the question just for now. But the pay-off, she says, is worthwhile.

“On a personal level, I prefer European football, and I do really like many aspects of this lifestyle. And with so many high quality players coming to Europe, everyone will obviously benefit from training in that environment every day.”

Key Aussies in Europe

England – Steph Catley, Caitlin Foord, Lydia Williams (all Arsenal), Alanna Kennedy (Tottenham), Sam Kerr (Chelsea), Chloe Logarzo (Bristol City), Hayley Raso (Everton), Emily van Egmond (West Ham)

France – Laura Brock, nee Alleway (Guingamp), Ellie Carpenter (Lyon), Mary Fowler (Montpellier)

Netherlands – Amy Harrison, Kyah Simon (both PSV Eindhoven)

Norway – Katrina Gorry, Clare Polkinghorne (both Avaldsnes), Karly Roestbakken (LSK Kvinner), Tameka Yallop (Klepp)

Sweden – Emily Gielnik (Vittsjo), Elise Kellond-Knight (Kristianstads)

Spain – Alex Chidiac (Atletico Madrid), Aivi Luik (Sevilla), Jenna McCormick (Real Betis)

Australia has enjoyed positive results against European teams in the Algarve Cup and other international matches, but have only done so once at a Women’s World Cup. Defeat against Italy at France 2019 and a penalty shoot-out exit at the hands of Norway only extended that drought.

“A weakness of ours has been against European opposition, and a gap in our football style and knowledge,” said Kellond-Knight, who speaks with thoughtfulness that perhaps might be expected of someone with a pharmacy degree and is voluntarily undertaking a long-distance corporate internship.

“What they are doing in England is really fantastic. That has greatly heightened in the past year-to-18 months and players see that it has really been invested in.

“Resources, player support, publicity, infrastructure with the women’s teams aligned to the big clubs – the whole package around the league is attractive, and I think England is doing it the best lately.”