Mel Andreatta has become a piccolo person. Her regular coffee order used to hover somewhere between a flat white and a latte, but since joining the Matildas coaching staff in early 2019, she has become all about efficiency – the hit of caffeine without the heaviness of warm milk.
Andreatta, who is now a full-time assistant under head coach Tony Gustavsson, is in Sydney to oversee the Matildas’ second talent identification camp. She orders her piccolo from the Valentine Sports Park café and suggests we sit outside in the sun. This is just her second full day out of quarantine after returning to Australia following the Matildas’ two friendlies against Germany and the Netherlands in mid-April.
“I know what the potential of this group is and what they have,” she says, reflecting on Australia’s two heavy defeats.
“We’ll get there. We believe in our plan and the people we have in place to bring that plan to life. It’s going to be a hard road but it’s one that I’m looking forward to taking with Tony and that the players will be supported to take as well.”
Keeping Australia in the game
Australian women’s football is currently at a crossroads. Recent reports conducted by Football Australia and FIFA have found that while the current Matildas team, the “Golden Generation,” are one of the highest-ranked national teams in the world, Australia risks slipping behind other countries over the next decade as the game accelerates elsewhere.
Europe is emerging as the new benchmark. At the 2019 Women’s World Cup, for the first time ever, seven of the eight quarter-finalists were European. The USA was the only other nation to qualify for the same stage; teams from Africa, Asia and South America were all knocked out.
What’s changing? For Andreatta, it’s not that European players are naturally superior to other players around the world. Instead, their football environments are set up to give them every possible chance to flourish.
“Their whole system of football is part of the answer,” she says.
“The whole journey that these German and Dutch players have [been on] to get them to that point and perform in that way is different to ours. And it’s the reason for our performance gap report; we know there are areas we need to improve drastically and quickly so that we can try and reduce that gap and then, of course, overcome it.
“But it’s going to take continued collaboration and work with member federations. It’s going to take investment in the W-League. I’ve been a strong advocate, even when I was a W-League coach, of extending the length of the season. And, I’ll be honest, it was the reason why I chose a different path by myself as a coach and went to men’s National Premier Leagues – it’s a much longer season.
“Then the quality of their leagues, as well: they’ve got the best players playing in top leagues. So you have most of your national team players playing in those leagues, and then, at top clubs in those leagues, they’re playing at [international] speed – or close to it – every week. And then you’ve got Champions League and Cup games.
And that is Andreatta’s focus in Sydney: the future.
Giving every Aussie talent a chance
Following Gustavsson’s four-year tenure, it’s expected that Andreatta will lead Australia’s next generation of players through another cycle of international competition. That’s where the current talent identification camps come in.
“You want to give every Aussie talent a chance,” she says.
“It’s important we have this opportunity now and we keep the pathway open and clear, and that communication with players is ongoing, so that we can keep an eye on these bubbling talents and potential players for the Olympics, 2023 and beyond.
“It’s not just about the four days here. It’s about the work you continue to do with your coaches in your clubs – that’s just as important because the reality is that’s where footballers spend all their time.
“I also think the education piece [matters], as well: what’s your next move? How are clubs going to support your development? They’re all some of the key ingredients that lead to long-term and sustained success for a player, having as many ticks as possible in those boxes.”
But talented players aren’t the only ones who require development pathways. For Andreatta, knowing there is an opportunity for emerging coaches at the top levels of the game is just as important. Her own journey is a testament to it.
Andreatta had to balance full-time PE teaching while studying her A-License at the Australian Institute of Sport. 18-hour days were common, juggling assignments and practical tasks with catching up on high school lessons. It was the same while coaching Brisbane Roar to a W-League premiership in 2017-18.
Now, after over a decade of cobbling together various jobs to make ends meet, Andreatta has her first full-time coaching role in women’s football. This structural support ensures that she – like her players – has every chance to flourish, too.
“It is liberating,” she says.
“I take the opportunity very seriously because there’s not enough female leaders or coaches in sport, but especially in football. I think that’s why I really want to honour these people and the federations and schools that have allowed me to do these things. I wouldn’t be here now if all those people in those organisations didn’t believe in me and invest in me.
“All the work that’s being done around Legacy ’23 to give more women an opportunity in a more strategic, mapped-out way is exciting.
“I think for young women, yes, we need to see good men in leadership roles, but we also need to see strong, smart women as well. We need both. That’s the world we live in, so why should sport be any different?
“I’m just so fortunate that I landed here, because I love the Matildas, I love the Olympics, I love the people I’m working with. I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot. I hope it’s not the end of it, either.”
We’ve almost finished our conversation and Andreatta’s piccolo hasn’t arrived. Rae Dower, Football Australia’s women’s technical adviser, wanders past and says she’s ordered another one on her behalf. Moments later, two piccolos arrive. It’s clear Andreatta’s work has only just begun.