The W-League landscape may be set to carry a different look heading into 2020/21 but, with one eye on Tokyo 2021 and the 2023 Women’s World Cup, Brisbane Roar and Matildas’ attacker Emily Gielnik believes that the competition’s standard remains strong.
Much has been made of the shifting demographics heading into the coming W-League campaign, with a significant number of players - including several high-profile Matildas - departing the competition for European leagues and COVID-enforced logistical challenges making it difficult for clubs to attract the same calibre of internationals as years past.
It’s a trend that, impossible to ignore, has been embraced by both the commentariat and league officials during its build-up; opportunities that will be delivered to young Australian players that may have previously been lacking championed as one the biggest positives of the coming campaign.
However, though that narrative is both compelling and worthy of celebration, the established players that remain are quick to point out that its prominence doesn’t mean that the W-League has simply become a babysitting service for players before they head overseas.
Gielnik is one of several high-profile veterans returning to the league this season; Tameka Yallop and Katrina Gorry joining her at Brisbane, Teagan Micah and Samantha Johnson signing at Melbourne City, Michelle Heyman at Canberra United, Angie Beard and Lisa de Vanna at Melbourne Victory, Ellie Brush at Sydney FC and Georgia Yeoman-Dale at Western Sydney Wanderers.
And 28-year-old Gielnik says that while the influx of young talent is undoubtedly exciting, that doesn’t mean that standards and expectations need to be thrown out the window.
“To be honest, I want to give the league some backing here,” the attacker said on Tuesday.
“I think the league is strong. Obviously, it’s devastating we’re missing a lot of the national team players but for me, personally, with the standards I have, I know the level I need to be playing at in order to keep myself in the national team.
“There’s always that expectation that I need to be that player that’s making a statement and is consistently in form, so there is that pressure there, but I hold myself accountable for that because my end goal and my desire are to be playing for the national team.
“The great thing about this [season] is that it’s so uncertain and so unknown. But look at the days when Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord were the young ones - 15-year-olds coming in and they shocked everyone.
“I think this is an amazing opportunity for those young, unknown players because the squad depth was so strong the last few seasons and now there’s room for players that maybe hadn’t been identified.
“I think [there is a] balance: it’s a good proving ground and we might expect the unexpected but I’m still looking for the W-League to be strong. There are still great foreigners that are coming in to create that depth and excitement for the game.
“I don’t want to underestimate anybody.
“It’s young players that are hungry and I just hope they take this chance and I hope that we can prove to the rest of the world and the rest of the W-League that you don’t need all the familiar faces.
“Yes, I agree that they’re important to a certain extent, but you do need fresh faces from time to time and we need development and growth within women’s football and it’s going to start from this W-League onwards.”
Gielnik is returning to Australia after just over a year spent playing Europe, first with German powers Bayern Munich and then with Swedish club Vittsjö.
A combination of injuries, schematic challenges and a packed side made things difficult going for the Matilda in her Bavarian stop, limiting her to just six Frauen-Bundesliga appearances, but she promptly flourished upon her move to Sweden - scoring a goal every second game during her time in the Damallsvenskan.
Now set to return to a Roar side that she previously spent eight seasons with from 2009 to 2018, the 31-time Matilda believes that the range of experiences she gleaned from her time in Europe leaves her well placed heading into the coming W-League season and the coming battle for selection in the Matildas’ Tokyo Olympics side.
“For me, personally, scoring goals and coming off a consistently good style of football helps build confidence heading into the W-League, as it would any league,” she explained.
“I think it’s been a long time [since] I’ve come off a really good season going into another season where I’m feeling quite confident.
“Scoring all those goals [with Vittsjö] and feeling ready for this season, I couldn’t be more excited and I’m really just looking to continue that form leading into the W-League, that’s my main focus.
“I have grown extreme amounts, more from a mental perspective - developed under really difficult circumstances. Obviously, Bayern was a tough one for me in terms of a mental challenge. Physically I feel like I was fine there, I think I’ve developed a lot in terms of my leadership and how I’ve grown as a player in difficult situations.
“We had a squad of 28 players and maybe 24 of those were national team players, so the biggest challenge was making the squad every week. There was a lot of adversity there.
“The style of play is different. It was portrayed that they [played] an attacking style of football but it was a very possession-based, technical, ‘tiki-taka’ style of play in small spaces, which is not too much of what I’m used to and I’m not that kind of player.
“I’m more of a threat in behind and breaking lines and going forward quickly. I just feel I wasn’t utilised as much but I came to a point where I really learnt to value my strengths and stick to what I’m good at.
“That’s what’s gotten me around the world and that’s what’s got me into the national team so I don’t plan to try and change that, I just plan to try and strengthen those strengths and then obviously develop those weaknesses where my technical ability comes in in small spaces.”
Set to exit hotel quarantine and fly to Queensland on this afternoon, Gielnik and her Roar teammates will open their 2020/21 season on December 28 away to Newcastle Jets.