The man-bun is gone but beneath the still lustrous mane of Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson the mind of a self-professed tactical nerd lives on.
Credited by many as the brains behind USWNT’s FIFA Women’s World Cup wins in 2015 and 2019, Gustavsson, 47, steps out from beneath the international coattails of his former USA boss Jill Ellis to command the green and gold pieces on what he calls the “green fiends of chess” in his first matches in charge against Germany and Netherlands next month.
The Swedish hipster’s Gareth Bale-esque hair flair got him noticed almost as much as his checkmate master strokes from the touch-line in Canada and France.
After half-a-year of plotting and planning in the seclusion of lockdown, his mission now is melding the famed “never say die” mentality of the seventh-ranked Matildas with a crafty new “game management” mentality at this year’s Olympics, 2022’s AFC Asian Cup and the 2023 World Cup on home soil after that.
It’s incremental changes and tweaks Gustavsson is aiming for to give the Matildas the lick of polish required to win major tournaments.
“My job is not to come in with Tony’s playbook and say ‘either you fit it or you don’t’,” said Gustavsson.
“It’s my getting an understanding of what the key qualities the key players bring to the Matildas
“I have a passion for tactics, I always have. I call it the green fields of chess.
“I look a lot at the game management side of things, the ebb and flow, and how to control the tempo in a specific situation.
“You can have a game plan to win but then the opponent throws a curveball at you with something completely different, and you need to be able to adjust to that.”
Gustavsson, however, won’t tinker with identity of a Matildas team which he has long admired.
“This is not about Tony’s team, This is about the Matildas and there are already some core values which are very important to respect and embrace within the team,” he added.
“When I coached against the Matildas I was always intrigued by something I saw as a bit of an X-factor.
“I couldn’t really put a name to it but it was something different that not many teams bring to the party.
“But now being on the inside I’ve got an understanding what it is.
“It’s a never-say-die attitude which we are going to keep embracing and working on.
“We look at the games against Brazil in the World Cup, against China in the qualifiers - there is no coincidence that that happens.
“The number one thing we need to do, including me, is to wake up each morning with the mindset of wanting to get better each day, not just one day older.”
As for specific upgrades - they’re going to be more tactical then physical.
“In terms of the physical aspect of this team it’s already world-class,” said Gustavsson.
“I think we can look at adding and tweaking a couple couple of tactical aspects, though.
“I’ve looked into all the games we have played and unfortunately not made it through... the game against Japan in ‘15, against Brazil in ‘16 and against Norway in ‘19.
“(I’ve assessed) what we need to add to our repertoire and toolbox to get over those sort of hurdles at the Olympics, Asian Cup and World Cup.
“Looking at the journey with the US, when I came on board they hadn’t managed to win the World Cup in ‘03, ‘07 or ‘11.
“But we broke things down and worked out what we had to do better and I had the privilege of being part of (success at) the ‘15 and ‘19 World Cups
“My experience is that most successful individual players and teams are the ones that have a good understanding how to play of their strengths for as many minutes as possible (during matches).”