By Joey Lynch
Coming off a season in which his club ended three years in the wilderness with a breakthrough W-League premiership, Anthony Di Pietro is excited about the future for both his side and the competition.
Finishing as wooden-spooners in 2015/16 and 2016/17 and seventh in 2017/18, Head Coach Jeff Hopkins’ side flipped the script on the W-League in 2018/19; storming to the premiership whilst cross-town foes Melbourne City – who entered the season as three-time defending champions – missed the finals completely.
Buoyed by standout performances from Julie Dolan Medal winner Christine Nairn, captain Natasha Dowie, Matilda Emily Gielnik and a defence that was equal-stingiest in the league, Victory topped the table in all but three of the 18/19 campaign’s 14 rounds.
Despite going down to a Sam Kerr-inspired Perth Glory in the semi-finals, Victory’s regular-season performance was enough to secure them a place in the what will be the first AFC Women’s Club Championship against sides from China, Japan and South Korea this November.
That, combined with the evolution in the W-League as it shifts to come under the control of the clubs going forward, has Di Pietro excited.
“I think we’ll look back in five and ten years’ time and we’ll see a really exciting women’s competition,” he said at yesterday’s unveiling of Victory’s A-League side’s leadership group.
“When you couple that with relationships that are getting built between the US league and ours, then we can give player’s continuity between the two leagues. I think that’s going to be an exciting development.
“Doubleheaders with A-League games are going to happen more this season. We’ve got – as a club – we’ve got some new players that are going to be announced. A few from the US, some Matildas, some young players coming through and we’re steadfast in our determination to build women’s football and keep our team really competitive and winning.”
There are, nonetheless, a number of questions still facing the women’s game heading into the twelfth season of the W-League.
The challenges in providing female footballers with suitable facilities, resources, competition structure and remuneration remains an ongoing one – the second Melbourne Derby of the 18/19 season was marred by a sub-standard Epping Stadium pitch – and the fostering of clearer and more effective pathways and development remains a key issue.
With the prevailing mood that Australia’s best talent should head to Europe in order to take advantage of its exploding women’s footballing scene, the W-League faces the prospect of its most marketable aspect being diminished: the presence of its Matildas. Victory has already lost Gielnik for 19/20, after the attacker signed with German giants Bayern Munich.
It’s something Di Pietro acknowledged.
“That’s why the pathway programs that the clubs are now building with women’s football is going to be critical,” the Victory Chairman said.
“We will get more female football participation coming through.
“I think partnerships internationally is going to be quite important in giving players continuity. They know where they’re going from season to season and that will keep our W-League really humming in my view.”