Former Matildas striker Catherine Cannuli says the poisonous debate dredged up after the sacking of Alen Stajcic is harming football's growth in the women’s and men’s game in Australia.
Last month, Stajcic was sacked by FFA as Matildas coach over what was deemed a harmful culture around the Matildas.
A PFA report and an Our Watch survey and other interviews were used as evidence for FFA’s case to terminate his contract five months out from a World Cup.
Today, Stajcic hit back with a statement demanding the truth about his sacking, adding his reputation was in tatters and his family had been devastated.
He also fronted his own press conference in Sydney today (Monday) just hours before an FFA board meeting.
Cannuli, 32, who retired from her playing career five years ago to focus on coaching in the west of Sydney and her business interests, has been one of the younger female coaches who Stajcic has mentored over the last two decades.
She told FTBL that the debate following Stajcic’s sacking was harming the game’s ability to grow in both the men's and women's game.
“At the end of the day, no-one loves women’s football and men’s football. We love football. We’re all football people,” Cannuli, still furious about the sacking, told FTBL.
“Whether you’re a male or female, if you’re the right person for that job it’s about who is the right person for that job.
“If I’m good enough as a female coach to lead our country then I’m happy to take that job.
“This whole situation is going to put a dent into the game with the A-League and W-League still quite young. We need to grow.”
Cannuli added the poisonous debate around Stajcic’s sacking had dredged up issues around sexuality in the game, which she said were nonsense.
Because of the ambiguous nature of the sacking of the Matildas coach, Cannuli argued that such theories had filled the void on social media which has further poisoned football’s culture from within.
“Politics is everywhere in life,” Cannuli said. “But we are here, the majority of us because we love football. End of story.
“We need to put all that stuff aside and worry about the main focus, which is growing the A-League and W-League in Australia.
“Whether you’re gay, straight or whatever, it doesn’t matter. We’re all footballers and football people. Anybody’s personal life is their personal life.
“As long as they turn up and play, and give 100% for their team or country… what their sexuality is has nothing to do with football as an administrator, player or a coach. Whoever you are your sexuality has nothing to do with it.
“For the public on social media to come out and start saying things like that, it’s really sad that we’re bringing it down to that level.
“Sometimes when things like Alen’s sacking happens, people get off the beaten track around why… and because there’s not a clear reason why he was sacked, that void is being filled by people going off track by opening different cans of worms.
“People are obviously divided about what’s been going on.”
The former forward who played for Wanderers, Roar and Sydney FC added that her first-hand experience with Stajcic showed why she felt the sacking was unjust, and also unclear - one which requires a clearer more transparent explanation.
“It wasn’t clear to me at all,” she said about the reasons given by FFA.
“FFA has said what they said, but for me, not just as an outsider but as a football fan, it hasn’t been clear. There’s been no transparency.
“As a football fan, I love the game, we deserve to know what he’s done wrong. If he’s done something wrong, then us as the public deserve the know the reasoning behind it.
“We deserve that. And it’s not fair to come out and say one thing… we want answers to what is going on.”
She also describes Alen Stajcic as a true family man with a devotion to advancing women's’ football in Australia.
And she should know having first met Stajcic almost 20 years ago as a player before being mentored by him in her own coaching journey.
“I’ve known Staj since I was a young kid at NSWIS around 2001. He was starting out as a coach. One thing for sure, he’s always loved the women's’ game.
“That’s what he loved. It’s his passion. He gave the Matildas hope and belief. If it wasn’t for him, and knowing the group, they would’ve got that sort of success.
“Tommy Sermanni [former Matildas coach] was a top coach but Staj has taken it to another level with a good crop of players coming through too.”
Loads are a hot topic given most Matildas are full-time footballers, playing abroad in big leagues and in the W-League, meaning they have a full year of club plus international football.
Cannuli noted the importance now of managing those loads.
“We have to take into consideration their loads and the stress on their bodies. So it needs to be looked at in terms of how much they’re playing,” she added.
Whatever happens today at the FFA board meeting and the continued fallout, the former W-League and Matildas striker remains downcast about the game right now and how it’s turned on itself.
“It’s a very sad time for women’s football. It’s sad for Alen and the players that it’s all come undone.
“To lose someone who’s devoted 18 years of his life to the game of women’s football in general. There aren’t many coaches who do that.
“He’s never been one to say he’ll use the women’s game to step into men’s football.
“Four months out from a World Cup, to have to go through something like this. It’s a really sad time.
“I know from first hand Alen is not that type of man. He’s a good man. A good father. A good person, always willing to help.
“To see some of the stuff said on social media it’s really sad for everyone, not just his family and his kids.
“I can tell you some prospective male coaches are saying we have to be so careful about what we do and say. It’s going to turn off some people for getting involved in the women's’ game.
“We want footballers to be in a good environment. Seeing it with my own eyes I never noticed any issue in terms of a bad culture in the camps I’ve been invited to by Alen.
“We don’t want to scare coaches away from wanting to demand professionalism and high standard.”
Stajcic has been helping Cannuli on her coaching journey over the last two years, passing on the skills he’s acquired to help her become a better coach.
“He was there as a player and now he’s here as a mentor to me being a coach. We coach at SD Raiders U14s, where Staj’s daughter plays," Cannuli explained.
“It’s been a massive help for my coaching. He’s a natural the way he talks to the girls to get the best out of them for juniors and seniors. He’s always been a successful coach.
“His track record shows he’s always been successful.”
Cannuli says the sacking is a destabilizing element to the national team’s preparations just four months out from a World Cup.
Only time will tell what effect it will have on the group.
“You need that stability and have that person who is leading the group and where the players are all behind that person.
“The girls will represent as best as they can. But this is going to be a huge distraction. There are a lot of girls who are unhappy with what has happened," she added.
“There are girls who are going to feel disheartened.
“The girls I’ve spoken to have been quite upset at what’s happened. The girls are only human and of course, there’ll be emotions around what’s gone on.
“Over the last four years, that group has created such a bond and a belief. They all bought into Alen’s vision. They had buy-in. So I’m sure there’ll be a majority sad at not having him there.
“And of course Staj will be devastated at not being able to lead his team at the World Cup.”