The Matildas appear to have dodged a bullet that threatened to prevent several key players, including captain Sam Kerr, from representing Australia at the World Cup as the hugely controversial European Super League plan faced collapse on Wednesday.
There had been fears the impact of the hugely unpopular breakaway competition could have reached Australia with five of the country’s top players on the books of some of the 12 clubs initially signed up for the continental tournament.
But all six English clubs – three of which have Matildas players on their books – pulled out on Wednesday following a fierce backlash, leaving plans for the competition in tatters.
European governing body Uefa had vowed to ban players at rebel clubs from international tournaments, meaning the likes of Kerr – along with teammates Steph Catley, Caitlin Foord, Lydia Williams and Alanna Kennedy – would potentially have been barred from representing their country, and forced to miss the World Cup.
Football Australia had been in contact with clubs in Europe, as well as governing bodies Uefa and Fifa over the wide-reaching implications of the creation of a corresponding women’s league, that was intended to be introduced “as soon as practicable after the start of the men’s competition”.
The ESL has vowed to “reshape the project”, but the Matildas’ tilt at World Cup glory on home soil at the 2023 competition appears for now to be unaffected by the turmoil that has unfolded in Europe over the past 48 hours.
“In the case of our Matildas and Socceroos, we are one of a few countries outside of Europe which has a significant presence in European club competitions so we will ensure we have our say should this matter be escalated to Fifa,” Football Australia CEO James Johnson said.
Kerr’s Women’s Super League club Chelsea were one of the 12 founding and governing members of the ESL. Arsenal (Catley, Foord and Williams) and Tottenham (Kennedy) are two more of the six English clubs originally involved in the plan. Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool were the other three English clubs, all of who have now pulled out.
Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan, Internazionale and Juventus complete the list of founding members of the project.
After the 12 clubs confirmed the creation of a breakaway league late on Sunday night European time, Uefa threatened tough sanctions for those involved at domestic, European and world level.
“The players who will play in teams that might play in the closed league will be banned from playing in the World Cup and Euros, so they will not be able to represent their national teams at any matches,” Aleksander Ceferin, the president of Uefa, said.
The plans were never likely to impact Australia’s men’s side as severely as the Matildas, with just one current Socceroo – the Arsenal goalkeeper Mat Ryan – playing for a rebel club.
And Johnson said the recent machinations within Australian football have ensured the football pyramid in this country remains safe from the kind of threats other leagues across Europe have faced over the past few days.
“These types of conversations are not new to football and have been discussed for many years,” Johnson said. “In the case of Australian football, we have been able to protect the football pyramid through the recent unbundling process of the professional leagues and Football Australia’s role as regulator.
“Our new model highlights the importance of strong governance principles, such as the promotion of an aligned domestic match calendar, domestic transfer system, access to the Asian Champions League and Australian domestic competitions, as well as a national second tier framework – all the necessary mechanisms to create a connected and effective football pyramid.”