Matildas defender Ellie Carpenter has the world at her feet, and according to her former coach it is only the beginning.
The Matildas right back has come a long way since leaving Cowra to pursue her football dream. Since making her national team and Olympic debut at the age of 15 she has developed into one of the world’s best players.
Ellie Carpenter Journey
- The Cowra-born player made her A-League and Olympic debut aged 15.
- She has since played in the NWSL and more recently joined French giants Olympique Lyonnais.
- Carpenter could win her second UEFA Women's Champions League medal this Sunday, despite being only 22 years old.
More Matildas and ParaMatildas news can be found on The Women's Game.
After several seasons in the A-League and the NWSL, Carpenter is now at French giants Olympic Lyonnias. The 22-year old defender is set to feature on her biggest stage yet, the Champions League final against the undefeated title-holders FC Barcelona.
Her former coach Heather Garriock first became aware of Carpenter when she was an assistant coach of the Young Matildas in 2016. While the Matildas' natural ability stood out early, it her mentality impressed the former national team midfielder.
“The two things that stood out were intrinsic,” recalls Garriock. "Her motivation and her athleticism from a fitness point of view.
“She was determined and really eager to learn… tenacious.”
Garriock later signed the fast rising star for Canberra United after taking the reigns as head coach of the W-League club. She has fond memories of Carpenter’s early years.
“She wanted to be the best technically. She wanted to improve on her left foot.
"Then her heading needed to get better, she always worked so hard every single session and that’s the reason why I loved working with her at Young Matildas level.
“Then again at Canberra she just set a great example and I love that about Ellie.”
Ellie Carpenter takes a shot at equalising for @CanberraUnited in the final moments of the game!#NEWvCBR #WLeague— Liberty A-League (@aleaguewomen) November 17, 2018
📹: @FOXFOOTBALL pic.twitter.com/74vA7Ufkix
Carpenter first came to national attention when she was selected to the Olympic squad. Then manager Alen Stajcic placed his faith in the 15-year-old full back, in what was then somewhat of a surprise selection. She was Australis’s youngest Olympian for Rio 2016.
Garriock was an assistant coach for that tournament. In her playing days, she was included in the 2000 Olympics team at just 17 years old. As a former prodigy herself, Garriock related to the challenges of being a young player in the spotlight amongst older and more established players.
Having to prove yourself as a footballer, in a high profile tournament like the Olympics, while still in high school is something only a handful of players in the world can relate to.
“It was hard, the emotions,” says Garriock of her own experience. “I didn’t know myself, I didn’t know what I was supposed to feel.
“I did know that my love for football was there. I just felt that Ellie was very similar to when I was a youngster hack in 2000.
“You’re a young kid, you’re happy to be there. After that, the emotional roller coaster of what do I do next?
“It’s such a big thing to go through as a 15-year-old.”
While it is not unusual for a young player to be given a chance in the A-League Women, Carpenter’s rise was notable because of her position.
The back line can be an unforgiving place, and most teenage players are used further up the ground. At Western Sydney, then at Canberra United, Carpenter looked remarkably at home in her role.
“Normally attacking players get picked up really early,” says Garriock. “She was defensively minded with an attacking mind to want to get up and down the flank.
“I think it was her characteristics and athleticism that made her really stand out. She was up against some senior players and did really well to hold her own.
“I think she had to learn how to attack, I think she still needs to learn and pick her moments.
“She’s still got a lot of maturing to do as a footballer. She’s progressed dramatically and that’s because she’s been a pro footballer since the age of 15.
“It just incredible for her defensive attributes to he picked up early and nurtured.”
"Ellie Carpenter is a machine."— 7Olympics (@7olympics) August 2, 2021
What an effort. #7Olympics | #Tokyo2020 pic.twitter.com/pTqwrueVD1
Carpenter’s development since that first Olympics has been startling. She came to dominate the then W-League with Western Sydney, Canberra United and Melbourne City.
She had a stranglehold on individual honours, winning the Young Player of the Year Award in three consecutive seasons from 2018-2020.
Her match saving defending and her exhilarating attacking play made her a firm fan favourite in the competition. By the 2019 World Cup, she was a guaranteed starter for The Matildas and a star of the tournament, and was the NWSL’s youngest ever scorer with Portland Thorns.
There were a number of milestones this season, starting with this goal from Ellie Carpenter, making her the youngest goalscorer in @NWSL history. #PTFC2018 #BAONPDX pic.twitter.com/nQjCBNF2G9— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) December 27, 2018
After a move to the French powerhouse in 2020, she was named AFC Player of the Year, beating out Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord to be recognized as the best footballer in Asia.
When Lyon signed the Aussie prodigy, it was with a view to replacing Lucy Bronze. The English full back had just been recognized by FIFA as the best player in the world. Carpenter had the biggest boots imaginable to fill, and has cemented her place in the Lyon line up.
According to Garriock, the upward trajectory may well continue. There is no way of predicting the limits of her potential.
“She always made it very clear to me personally that she wants to be the world’s best player,” she says of her former protégé.
“She had a lot of work to do (when she started).
“She was born with her athleticism and her winning mentality, but technically she had work to do and she still does, but she’s just improved out of sight from where she was to where she is now.
“It’d be nice to see her grow and be a world beater and she’s pretty close.”
Australia’s sporting landscape is such that most young athletes try their hand at various sports.
Garriock says that Carpenter stood out early as a natural footballer. But although she makes the game look easy, the player we see now dominating Australia and Lyon’s right flank is the result hours of work and sacrifice from her and her family.
“She was always focussed on football and loved it. It’s in her blood,” says Garriock in admiration.
“She’s so humble and hardworking and willing to give her time to young kids, to me she’s a future skipper.
“She can be the best player in the world. I’d love to see her individually gain the accolades and awards but also become a leader.”
That time may very well come. Carpenter’s vast experience make it easy to forget that she is still one of the youngest players for her club and country. At just 22 years old her accomplishments are simply astonishing.
In seven years, Ellie Carpenter has gone from the from Australia’s youngest Olympian to a W-League champion to one of the most important players in Tony Gustavsson’s team.
With Lyon, she now stands at the pinnacle of women’s club football. A win against Barcelona will mean a second Champions League winners medal, this time as a starting player.
Barcelona are the favourites, they have scored 148 goals and conceded just 11 times this season. Lyon should not be written off. They also have some extremely talented players.
Among these stars is former Ballon D’or winner Ada Hegerberg, U.S striker Catatarina Macario, the brilliant French defender Wendy Renard, and our very own, Ellie Carpenter.
She shares a dressing room with the best players in the world, because she is one of the best in the world. The final in Turin, has been a long time coming, yet still feels like it is only the beginning.
The Champions League Final is broadcast free on DAZN’s Youtube Channel at 3AM (AEST)
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