New Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson believes others can decide if Sam Kerr is the world’s best striker, but he insists the Chelsea star possesses the mental strength to help the Australians win a medal at this year’s Tokyo Olympics.
Gustavsson will make his maiden appearance as Australian coach in two friendlies against top four nations Germany and the Netherlands this Sunday and Wednesday.
The clashes in the Netherlands will be the Matildas’ first matches since sealing qualification for the Tokyo Olympics in March last year.
Gustavsson has loved working with the Australian women’s side, but he feels particularly blessed to coach Kerr.
The Matildas captain heads into national camp full of confidence after scoring 10 goals in her last six games for Chelsea to sit equal top of the FA Women’s Super League goalscoring charts.
Kerr is flying high, but she has showcased impressive resilience to reach this point after copping heavy criticism early in the season following several basic misses in front of goal.
Sam Kerr has starred for Chelsea in the Barclays FA Women’s Super League. Picture: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images.Source:Getty Images
Gustavsson believes this ability to respond from a setback is what makes the Matildas skipper so special.
“If a team wants to lift that trophy, that mental toughness is one of the most important things,” Gustavsson said.
“And she (Sam) definitely proved that.
“When you are in this business you are always going to have opinion, but if a player can really lock that out and focus on her performance and the team can do the same.
“That mental toughness is going to be one of the super factors, so I’m appreciative to get the opportunity to work with Sam.
“To have the privilege to get to know her more on a personal level during this camp has been amazing.
“We’ve had a couple of really good talks, and in training you can see she is busting and how much she appreciates coming back in and playing for the Matildas again – it is a pure pleasure.”
As for claims that Kerr is the world’s best, Gustavsson is happy to leave that to the experts.
“But I do know that she has a very high ambition of always wanting to strive to be better, and that is what we are going to focus on,” he said.
“Then it is up to others to say whether she is the best in the world or not.
“But is she in form? Yes.”
Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson says it’s a ‘pleasure’ to coach Sam Kerr. Picture: Barrington Coombs/Getty Images for FFASource:Getty Images
The Matildas head into Sunday’s friendly against the world No 2 Germany without the team’s first choice fullbacks and they haven’t played in 400 days, but Gustavsson is refusing to let excuses rattle his side.
He is constantly told that the game will be one of the team’s toughest clashes, and he knows it would be easy to complain or lose hope.
“But we are not wired that way – we are the Matildas,” he said.
“So, so no matter what we are going to go out and do everything we can to wear that crest on our chest and play our best.
“I’m going to focus on that, which we have done at training, and then we’ll see how far it goes.
“What I do know is that we are going to get a lot of pictures to learn where we are at and what we need to improve going into the Olympics.”
Gustavsson is also happy to be coaching face-to-face given he has previously relied on Zoom meetings to talk to his players, as he couldn’t travel because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The first couple of sessions I was so loud, so I almost lost my voice, that is how happy I am to be back coaching,” he joked.
“I hope I still have a voice left. I was so excited on the field.
“I’ve spoken to the players like this (via Zoom) previously, but now I’ve got to know them even better.
“It is a fantastic group of people – both the staff and the players.”
The Matildas take on Germany from 12.10am on Sunday before meeting the Netherlands on Wednesday from 2.30am.
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