Melbourne City W-League coach Rado Vidosic has added his voice to the growing chorus calling for the W-League to be expanded to a year-round, professional competition.
While fears of a total absence of recognisable faces from this year’s W-League season have been allayed by the return of several high-profile names in recent months, the absence of bankable talents such as Sam Kerr, Steph Catley, Ellie Carpenter and Caitlin Foord has thrown a spotlight onto the question of what the competition’s actual purpose is - excellence, development or some combination of both?
Much has been made in the build to Tuesday’s season opener about the opportunities that will be provided to a host of young players as a result of the absence of Matildas and high-profile international signings, as well as the increased minutes available to NPLW talent previously on the periphery.
However, Vidosic, whose City side has been hit harder than any other by the league’s shifting demographics, says that the competition needs to do more to ensure that it adapted to the changing landscape of the women’s game.
“[The league] has dropped a lot,” he said. “I think we need to do something about it.
“I think we need to change the way that we are treating the W-League. We should not treat this as a part-time, four months [competition]. I think we need to bite the bullet and we need to go full-time.
“Because the only way that these players will improve is to be full time in a professional environment. At the moment, they [spend] four months with us and then eight months with NPLW clubs. And that is not going to help the level of expectations.
“[Football Australia CEO] James Johnson has said that he wants to make the W-League in the top five leagues in the world [part of the FA’s 2035 vision in the XI Principles document], so I would say that the federation has something up their sleeves on how to deliver that promise.”
In the recently released Football Australia Women’s Performance Gap report, the 14-game W-League season was identified as a drag on the development of Australia’s next-generation: offering just 113,444 minutes of action compared to the Case Study League average of 291,660.
And according to the City boss, this lack of year-round contact with players would not only serve to bolster player development but also protect younger players from debilitating injury.
“We were very unfortunate,” Vidosic explained. “We’ve got three young Melbourne girls that have had some very bad injuries, [including] two ACLs.
“The last one that we had injured was [20-year-old] Chelsea Blisset. It’s a big loss for us, she was really someone that I was hoping that was going to be setting up but unfortunately she’s out.
“Nia [Stamatopoulos, 17], she is out, she had two surgeries on her legs.
“I don’t know who to blame… but I believe that if we had a professional setup for these girls, an all-year program for them I think we should be able to prepare them for the physical demands of the W-League better and maybe prevent some of these injuries.
“Especially if we are going to sign them so young.”
Development, however, begins well before a player ever pulls on a W-League shirt, and that too has come under increased focus in the wake of the FA’s Women’s Performance Gap report.
Vidosic, who has previously spoken of the massive leap required for players moving from the NPLW to W-League, believes that Australian football needed to reassess the way that it approached developing the next generation of Matildas.
This counted doubly so for Victoria, which despite having the second-largest participation base in the country counts Steph Catley as the only Matildas regular that grew up in the state’s system.
“I’m old enough to remember when I was coaching at the [QLD] state teams level, we would play and train against [Queensland Academy of Sport] that could play regular games against boys.
“No wonder Queensland has produced so many top Matildas. Here in Victoria, we have not produced hardly any Matildas. We really need to change the way we are looking at our development programs and that competition should not be the only way to measure that.
“I think we need to look out of the box, we need to look everywhere, what can we do to help these young girls to develop into full Matildas and hopefully then we can achieve some great results in the future.”